Around the region: TVA settles with N.C. on pollution complaint

Published 9:10 am Friday, April 22, 2011

Disaster declaration for eastern North Carolina counties
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has agreed to reduce harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper claims are polluting air in North Carolina. TVA said it will spend as much as $5 billion to reduce by two thirds the smog- and acid rain-forming emissions from the plants, which are located in three states. As part of the settlement, the utility also plans to shut down 18 old power generating units and spend $350 million on clean-energy projects, including $11.2 million on energy efficiency programs in North Carolina. The settlement, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, applies to 11 power plants in Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee.
As part of the settlement, TVA also will pay a $10 million fine and $1 million to the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service for harm to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other federal lands.
The dispute between North Carolina and the TVA began in 2006 when Cooper filed a lawsuit claiming the emissions from coal-fired plants were resulting in public health and environmental problems for North Carolina residents. He claimed in the lawsuit that TVA should be required to make the same changes that Duke Energy and Progress Energy were forced to make as a result of the N.C. Clean Smokestacks Act.
The TVA plans to begin installing pollution controls in four plants closest to the North Carolina border, and later proceed with similar improvements at more distant plants. TVA said the changes were prompted not only by the North Carolina lawsuit, but by a need to reduce its reliance on coal. Using less coal, which now fuels more than half of the utility’s power generation, will reduce long-term risks and lower costs, said the TVA.
N.C. Governor Bev Perdue has received a federal disaster declaration from President Obama for 10 counties that suffered damage from Saturday’s tornadoes and severe storms. Preliminary damage assessments are under way to add eight other counties to the declaration. The governor’s office reports that the death toll from the storms rose to 24, including 12 in Bertie County.
The state has confirmed that 439 homes were destroyed and the number is expected to rise. About 6,189 homes, including 5,000 in Wake County along, suffered some level of damage. In addition, 21 businesses were destroyed and at least 92 were damaged.
Governor Perdue also is waiting for a response to its request for an agricultural disaster declaration, but farmers affected by the storms already can begin seeking assistance through programs offered at their Farm Service offices.
Governor Perdue encourages North Carolina residents to assist those in the affected areas with monetary donations. The N.C. Disaster Relief Fund is managed by the governor’s office in partnership with the United Way of North Carolina. To donate or get information about the fund, visit or mail donations to NC Disaster Relief Fund, Office of the Governor, 20312 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-0312. Anyone who would like to volunteer or donate goods can call the governor’s hotline toll free at 1-888-835-9966.
Passenger traffic at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport has surged with the addition of Southwest Airlines flights beginning in March. The airport reports traffic was up 63 percent in March compared to February thanks to nearly 13,000 passengers who boarded Southwest Airlines flights. GSP said the arrival of Southwest, which began flights at the airport on March 13, prompted other airlines to offer lower fares, resulting in more traffic at nearly every airline serving the airport.
GSP President and CEO Dave Edwards said he is pleased to see the community returning to GSP “in a big way,” and he looks forward to the trend continuing.
Tax delinquencies are up sharply this year in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Revenue. The state said delinquencies have topped $1 billion this year, which is twice as much as two years ago. The money is owed, according to revenue officials, by approximately 300,000 corporate and individual taxpayers.
N.C. Revenue Secretary David Hoyle said the rise in delinquencies is clearly connected to the state of the economy and he acknowledges cash-strapped residents likely chose to make mortgage or car payments before tax payments to the government. However, he said collecting the delinquent taxes would significantly ease the state’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall. Collections may be made more difficult by budget cuts that have reduced the number of tax collectors for the state, but the state said it may collect nearly 80 percent of the total through payment agreements and wage garnishments.
According to the state, the money owed to the state includes about $20.4 million from more than 600 people who have failed to pay even after the state filed liens or took other legal action. That list is topped by Bob Hupman of Mebane, who alone owes $2.2 million. Hupman resigned from his seat on the Mebane Town Council after the Charlotte Observer reported in 2009 that he had $2.2 million in state tax debt. According to a lien from the Internal Revenue Service, Hupman, the former president of MebTel Communications, also owes nearly $4 million in federal taxes.
The North Carolina Republican Party is following the lead of Congressional Republicans in seeking an end to taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. A week after Republicans in the U.S. House sought to eliminate taxpayer funding for the women’s health organization, N.C. Republicans proposed a budget that prohibits the state from providing funds to Planned Parenthood. The budget also prohibits the state from entering into contracts with the organization. Planned Parenthood received in the most recent budget $437,000 through state safety net programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and providing birth control to low-income women.
*** has stopped marketing in North Carolina because state law requires it to pay taxes on Internet sales. The company did the same in Illinois, New York and Rhode Island, where similar laws were adopted to collect revenue from Internet companies with affiliates inside their borders. The company has offered a loyalty reward to its customers in those four states in an effort to keep their business. has filed a lawsuit against the Internet sales law adopted by North Carolina in 2009. The N.C. Revenue Department claims Amazon or its customers owe the state $50 million in sales and use taxes on Internet purchases since the state law was implemented. and Overstock are among several retailers who have claimed that the state laws on Internet sales are unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states cannot collect sales taxes unless a business has a physical presence in the state. The states with Internet sales laws have contended that retails have a presence in the state if they have affiliates, such as bloggers or websites promoting the products. So Overstock said it decided to sever relationships with such affiliates and use the money it would have paid affiliates for marketing to instead reward customers in those states.
Charter has upgraded its high speed Internet service in Upstate South Carolina, raising speeds to around 60 megabytes per second. The Internet service provider previously offered speeds up to 25 Mbps in the Greenville area. The Charter Internet Ultra60 is designed to let customers access multiple sources, such as music, movies and email on one screen.
Amazon has put on hold its hiring plans for a new distribution center near Columbia, S.C. because it’s unclear whether the state will provide the tax incentives it promised. To attract the center, which is expected to create 1,249 jobs, the state offered a five-year exemption on collecting taxes on sales to S.C. residents. Other retailers have complained the exemption gives Amazon an unfair advantage. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and numerous legislators have criticized the incentive, which the state’s commerce department committed to under the former administration of Governor Mark Sanford. Amazon said it looks forward to working with legislators to gain approval for the tax exemption so it can move forward with its hiring process.
Poultry Power USA is planning to build a power plant in North Carolina that will transform poultry waste into energy. The company has signed a contract with Progress Energy for the project. Poultry Power plans to build the plant in Biscoe and begin operations in two years. The company will convert 350,000 tons of poultry litter into energy per year. The waste will be converted into a biogas that will burn in a boiler and the heat will be used to turn a turbine.
Raleigh-based Progress Energy said the project will help the company meet North Carolina standards for renewable energy. The company said it is the state’s first poultry-to-biogas plant. Progress Energy said the project will help it meet the state’s targets for renewable energy.
Waynesville has been named a Tree City USA community for the fourth consecutive year. The city was recognized again by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to urban forestry.  The city has worked to protect existing trees, save distressed trees and plant new trees as much as possible. The city carefully selects trees based on what is most ideal for each location. To be eligible for the Tree City USA award, a community must have a tree board or department, a tree-care ordinance, a comprehensive community forestry program and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.
The Red Cross in Charlotte recently received a surprise when a $250,000 check came in the mail. Les Thomas, who opens mail at the regional Red Cross office, said she initially thought it must be a $25 check with a typographical error. But then she said she read an attached memo, which said, “Thanks for all that you do,” and saw that the amount was written out as, “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” Thomas then learned that the check was sent by Ken Lewis, the retired CEO of Bank of America.
The gift from Lewis and his wife, Donna, was provided in response to a $250,000 challenge grant given to the Red Cross in February by Howard Levine, CEO of Family Dollar. Levine urged others to contribute to help the charity, which had to lay off 40 percent of its staff between 2008 and the end of last year. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson also responded with a $250,000 donation of his own, and the agency is now within $250,000 of its campaign goal for the year.

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