U.S. Announces Billion-Dollar Clean Air Act Settlement with Utility

April 22, 2003
The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on April 21 the largest Clean Air Act enforcement settlement with a power utility. Virginia Electric Power Co. has agreed to spend $1.2 billion between now and 2013 to eliminate 237,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions each year from eight coal-fired electricity generating plants in Virginia and West Virginia.

The settlement is the latest in a series of cases that the Bush Administration pursued to bring the coal-fired power plant industry into full compliance with the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act. This settlement resolves charges that the company violated the laws by making major modifications to its power plants without installing equipment to control pollution that causes smog, acid rain and soot.

"As a result of this agreement, our citizens will be able to breathe easier, our forests and waterways will face less stress as acid rain is diminished, and we will all be able to see farther and more clearly in our national parks as soot and other particulate matter is removed from the air," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

This settlement requires VEPCO, one of the nation's largest coal-fired electric utilities, to install new pollution control equipment and upgrade existing controls on several units in its system, and will result in substantial pollution reductions. The settlement covers eight VEPCO plants, six in Virginia and two in West Virginia, comprising 20 electricity-generating units. These eight plants emitted over 350,000 tons of SO2 and NOx in 2000. The settlement will reduce these emissions by approximately 67 percent, to 116,000 tons by 2013.

Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the settlement "reflects the combined efforts of all parties to reach one common goal cleaner air. These massive reductions in pollution will benefit not only the citizens of Virginia and West Virginia, but also the states in the northeast, to which windblown emissions of these pollutants are transported."

In addition to providing for major pollution reductions, VEPCO agreed to pay a $5.3 million civil penalty and spend at least $13.9 million for projects in each of the five states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia and West Virginia) that participated in the case and its settlement to offset the impact of past emissions. Specifically, VEPCO agreed to projects ranging from retrofitting or otherwise reducing emissions from diesel engines, including those on school buses, to installing photovoltaic cells on municipal buildings, to purchasing conservation easements to preserve environmentally sensitive areas, and to providing alternative-fueled vehicles for use in the Shenandoah National Park.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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