The Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of EPA filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy, charging that eight of the electric utility''s power plants illegally released massive amounts of air pollutants for years.
The lawsuit alleges that Duke Energy violated the Clean Air Act by making major modifications to its coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas without installing the equipment required to control smog, acid rain and soot.
For more than a decade, the plants have operated without the best available emissions-control technology, increasing air pollution near the facilities and also downwind of the plants, along the Eastern Seaboard, according to DOJ.
The complaint is part of a national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants.
The United States aims to reduce dramatically the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that electric utility plants release into the atmosphere.
"Last week, we announced a $1.4 billion dollar settlement with Cinergy to cut such emissions. We hope that Duke Energy also will agree to reduce its emissions," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Such an action would provide great health benefits to people living in the vicinity of these plants and also to communities located miles downwind. Until then, we will continue to pursue these cases."
The lawsuit against Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke seeks to force the utility to install appropriate air pollution-control technology that will significantly reduce emissions.
The United States also seeks civil penalties. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation at each plant prior to Jan. 30, 1997, and $27,500 for each day thereafter.
The government asserts that Duke Energy made major modifications to its plants in order to extend their lives and avoid the cost of building new plants.
Under the Clean Air Act, modifications of this kind require installation of the "best available control technology," but the utilities did not do so.
"Dirty air effects all of us, and the Justice Department is committed to pursuing companies that are to blame," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general in charge of the Environment Division. "The actions of this company compromised our health and degraded our environment."
Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States.
by Virginia Sutcliffe