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US Sues Utilities to Enforce Clean Air Act

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From: PNEAC Webmaster (
Date: Tue Nov 09 1999 - 16:27:18 CST


The Justice Department, on behalf of the EPA, filed seven lawsuits against
electric utility companies in the Midwest and South, charging that 17 of
the companies' power plants illegally released massive amounts of air
pollutants for years and contributed to some of the most severe
environmental problems facing the United States today. The EPA also issued
an administrative order against the Tennessee Valley Authority, charging
the federal agency with similar violations at seven plants.

The seven separate suits allege that the electric utility companies --
American Electric Power, Cinergy, FirstEnergy, Illinois Power, Southern
Indiana Gas & Electric Company, Southern Company, Tampa Electric Company --
or their subsidiaries, and the TVA , violated the Clean Air Act by making
major modifications to many of their plants without installing the
equipment required to control smog, acid rain and soot.

In addition to the lawsuits and administrative order, the EPA issued
notices of violations to the utilities, naming an additional eight plants
where the agency maintains similar violations occurred. The 32 plants
targeted are located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

By taking this unprecedented action, the United States aims to reduce
dramatically the amount of SO2, NOx, and particulate matter that electric
utility plants release into the atmosphere. The lawsuits -- filed in U.S.
District Courts in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Tampa, East St. Louis, Ill., and
Columbus, Ohio -- seek to force the facilities to install appropriate air
pollution-control technology. Similarly, EPA's order directs TVA to install
control technology that will significantly reduce SO2 and NOx emissions.

The United States will seek significant civil penalties from all these
violators. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000
for each day of violation at each plant prior to January 30, 1997 and
$27,500 for each day thereafter.

Power plants existing at the time the Clean Air Act was amended in the late
1970s were "grandfathered." Therefore, utility companies were not required
to retrofit those existing plants with new air pollution control equipment,
unless the utilities undertook major modifications of those plants.

The government asserts that the utilities each made major modifications to
their plants in order to extend their lives and avoid the cost of building
new plants. These projects included replacing large portions of the boilers
that are the heart of the plants. Many of these actions cost tens of
millions of dollars and took years to complete. Under the Clean Air Act,
modifications of this kind require installation of the "best available
control technology," but the utilities did not do so.

Collectively, electric utility plants in the United States account for
nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions each year and 30 percent of
nitrogen oxides emissions. In addition to detrimental health effects on
asthma sufferers, the elderly and children, power plant emissions have been
linked to forest degradation, waterway damage, reservoir contamination, and
deterioration of stone and copper in buildings.

Gary Jones

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