Sierra Club: Duke’s Asheville coal plant exceeding safe sulfur dioxide levels

Guest Blog | March 13, 2015 | Coal, Energy Policy
Concerned citizens draw attention to coal ash and other impacts of the Asheville Power Station as part of the Asheville Beyond Coal Campaign.

This guest blog was written by Emma Greenbaum, who is the Sierra Club’s Organizing Representative for North Carolina Beyond Coal in Asheville, NC.

For the past several years, the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign has been speaking out publicly and building support for transition off of coal at Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant. We have brought attention to the threat carbon emissions pose to our climate, as well as the coal ash pollution and its effects on our rivers and groundwater.

What we now know is that in addition to these threats, the Asheville coal plant is emitting air pollutants that are harmful to human health. Specifically, it is emitting higher than safe levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks, airway constriction, and other respiratory problems. Sierra Club recently released two new reports that show the extent of the pollution and the most likely cause for this increased pollution.

The first report by Air Resource Specialists, shows that air near people’s homes downwind of the Asheville plant has sulfur dioxide concentrations up to 3.5 times higher than what EPA has determined to be safe. The plant’s pollution has exceeded these minimum public health standards approximately one out of every three to four days since 2010.

The second report, an analysis of operations at the plant, points to the two causes of this increased pollution: Duke apparently has been running its pollution protection technology less and, at the same time, has switched to cheaper, higher-sulfur coal. The likely reason for these changes is to reduce the cost of running this plant, which is one of Duke’s most expensive to operate. In the years leading up to this increase in 2010, the coal plant was not exceeding this SO2 health standard. What our findings strongly indicate is that Duke has the option to emit less of this toxic pollutant from its plant, but is choosing not to in order to save on operating costs. Duke is choosing to save an extra buck, at the expense of human health.

In the coming weeks we will continue to engage community members to call on Duke to run its pollution controls and bring the sulfur dioxide emissions back down to safe levels. We hope you will join Sierra Club in this call to protect families in Asheville, and welcome your input on further action.

For more information and to sign our petition, please visit

Guest Blog
My Profile