Great clean air news out of North Carolina today – the Sierra Club and four of our key allies are announcing a settlement that will retire 1,600-megawatts of dirty coal power. North Carolina has long been a clean air leader, from passing the landmark Clean Smokestacks Act a decade ago, which requires all coal plants in the state to install pollution controls, to taking legal action calling on neighboring states to clean up the coal pollution blowing into the Tarheel State. From the Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, the people of North Carolina are passionate about clean air.

As part of the settlement, our organizations have agreed to drop our challenges to Duke Energy’s new Cliffside Power Plant, which we been vehemently opposing for several years. While we would have preferred that Cliffside was never built – I personally spent several years fighting Cliffside when I was the director of Appalachian Voices – we are heartened to secure these clean air gains for North Carolina.

Under the terms of the settlement, Duke will retire old coal plants that have double the electric generating capacity of Cliffside, and will make those retirements legally binding. The Southern Environmental Law Center negotiated the settlement on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. For more about the settlement, read the joint press release.

I grew up just across the state line from North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Clean air was not just an environmental issue growing up – it was an economic issue as well. Smog from coal plants threatened the million-dollar views that brought billions of dollars in tourism revenue to the region.

Decision makers and political leaders from both parties fought hard for clean air, and supported measures to reduce coal pollution, which was the biggest cause of dirty air in the Smokies. By retiring these coal plants, the region is adding one more important accomplishment to its long history as a clean air leader.

Retiring these coal plants also gives North Carolina even more reason to aggressively pursue clean energy solutions, including offshore wind. The Sierra Club will be working hard with our allies in the year ahead to ensure North Carolina leads the way on clean energy, just as it has done on clean air for so many years.