The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced Monday that it has renewed the University of North Carolina’s Air Quality Permit for the coal plant that operates off of Cameron Avenue. What was not included, however, was the amount of heat input the cogeneration plant could burn—for that, there isn’t a limit at all.

The new permit draft was released in this spring, while the university was mired in litigation with the N.C. Center for Biological Diversity over its alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. The draft also did not define a heat input limit; while the Clean Air Act stops this at the federal level, the state does not regulate this for the university.

Despite the lack of heat input regulation, UNC does have limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide; however, these numbers are based on the assumption that heat input is being monitored.

“This is kind of like your doctor putting you on a diet where you can only eat cookies that have 100 calories or less, but there is no limit on the number of cookies that you can eat,” Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, wrote in an email to the INDY. “The end result is that the permit provides no effective way of regulating the total amount of SO2 and NO2 pollution emitted by UNC’s polluting facilities over time.”

The university’s use of coal as a primary energy source has been a topic of debate over the last few years. Its most recent Climate Action Plan, released in April, declares that the school will now aim to be emission-neutral—but not coal-free—by the year 2040. 

The new permit was granted on August 5 and publicly announced a day later. Coincidentally, a study by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was also released today, in which scientists declared that the Earth’s current trajectory could mean global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times by 2030—10 years earlier than originally predicted.

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to reflect when DEQ announced the permit renewal.

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