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NC Proposes Air Quality Permit Exemption For Small Manufacturers

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Environmental advocates are warning that a state regulatory change could increase air pollution while shielding the polluters from public scrutiny. They're reacting to a proposal from the North Carolina Environmental Department that would broaden exemptions for small manufacturers.

State environmental officials want to exempt about 1,200 manufacturers from air quality permitting requirements. Assistant Secretary of the Environment Tom Reeder calls those requirements an administrative burden.

"These very small emitters only compose about 0.6 percent of our total emissions in North Carolina," he says. "We're just doing away with some paperwork so we can focus our resources on these larger emitters where we need to focus them better."

The change would apply to a range of small facilities, including some chemical plants, concrete manufacturers and plastic producers.

Environmental advocates worry it would impact more than just paperwork. Brooks Rainey Pearson of the Southern Environmental Law Center says even though the manufacturers are small, Cabarrus, Union and some other counties have clusters of them.

"These are counties where we're seeing lots and lots of these facilities," she says. "Taken together, even if just a few of them are emitting more than they were or not under as close scrutiny, the cumulative impact could be significant."

Rainey Pearson worries they'll boost emissions if they're not subject to permitting.

The state's Tom Reeder says if that happens, his department will catch them.  

"The same things they're subject to today – monitoring, inspections – they'll still be subject to under these changes," he says.

Reeder says state lawmakers would need to approve the proposal.