US expands lawsuits against electric utilities following first settlement

The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the EPA, has expanded lawsuits filed against three electric utilities in November 1999 shortly after reaching a settlement with one of the other utilities cited at the same time.

The US Government is increasing the number of power stations cited in complaints filed against American Electric Power, Cinergy and their affiliates. The Government is also seeking to increase the number of power stations and companies cited in its lawsuit against subsidiaries of another utility, Southern Company.

The announcement comes shortly after the Government reached the first settlement since the initiative against the utilities was launched: Tampa Electric has agreed to reduce emissions from its power stations and pay a $3.5 million fine (see related story).

In November 1999, the US Government charged seven Midwest and Southern utilities – American Electric Power, Cinergy, FirstEnergy, Illinois Power, Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company, Southern Company and Tampa Electric Company – with violating the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit is intended to force the companies to install appropriate air pollution-control technology at 17 ageing power stations.

The expansion of the lawsuits means that it will now cover an extra 12 power stations. The power stations are alleged to have made major modifications without installing pollution control equipment required under the Clean Air Act.

The enforcement initiative now targets a total of 29 coal-fired power plants located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Under amendments to the Clean Air Act made in the late 1970s, electric utilities were not required to retrofit existing plants with new air pollution control equipment unless the utilities undertook major modifications of those plants.

The US claims that the utilities each made major modifications to the stations involved in the suits in order to avoid the cost of building new plants. Under the Clean Air Act amendments, modifications of this kind require companies to install the “best available control technology,” but the utilities did not do so, the US Government says.

On February 29, the US Government announced the first settlement under the initiative. As well as paying a $3.5 million fine, Tampa Electric will install permanent emissions-control equipment to meet Clean Air Act pollution limits; implement a series of interim pollution-reduction measures to reduce emissions while the permanent controls are installed; and end pollution emission allowances. The settlement also requires the company to spend between $10 and $11 million on environmentally beneficial projects in the region designed to mitigate the impact of emissions from the company’s plants.

“We’re extremely pleased to have resolved the concerns of EPA and the Department of Justice,” said Tampa Electric President John Ramil. “This consent decree strengthens our historic environmental plan developed with Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and it satisfies environmental regulators on both the state and federal levels.”

“This agreement makes Tampa Electric the first utility in the nation to respond to EPA’s coal-fired utility initiative,” added Ramil, “and we’re doing so in a way that benefits our customers, our community and our environment.”

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