Health and Environmental Groups Plan to Sue Over Clean Air Act Violations

Aug. 4, 2009
A coalition of Illinois health and environmental groups notified Midwest Generation LLC of their intent to sue the company because its coal plants release what the groups claim are illegally high amounts of particulate matter that lead to respiratory illnesses and premature deaths in nearby communities.

The lawsuit follows a number of air pollution-related citations from EPA against Midwest Generation's coal plants in the state, particularly the Fisk and Crawford Generating Stations located within the Chicago city limits.

The coalition members – Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE), the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Sierra Club – filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue, the first step in a Clean Air Act citizen suit. This action brings a new legal development in an ongoing campaign by environmental, health and community groups representing the communities in which the coal plants are located. All of the plants are located in working class and/or minority neighborhoods.

"CARE has spent the last 14 years fighting for the more stringent laws that are needed to protect citizens' health," stated Carol Stark, director of CARE. "After 40 years of pollution from these dirty plants, it is time to say enough! Midwest Generation, do the right thing: correct the problem, or shut down!"

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that pollution from 9 coal plants in northern Illinois causes 311 premature deaths, 4,100 emergency room visits, and 21,500 asthma attacks annually. Midwest Generation owns coal plants in Chicago, Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin, Illinois.

The potential lawsuit focuses on the coal plants’ opacity violations. Opacity is a measurement of the amount of light blocked by particulate matter coming from smokestacks. Particulate matter is fine dust and soot that stays close to the plant and concentrates negative air quality and health effects in nearby communities. EPA issued a notice of violation to Midwest Generation in August 2007 but has failed to take meaningful action to force clean ups at the plants and has allowed the plants to continue violating the law for the past 2 years.

“Even today, these ancient coal power plants continue to belch smoky black clouds in the heart of a major metropolis, putting millions of children, parents and grandparents at risk,” stated Brian Urbaszewski, director of Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “If these coal plants can't even comply with clean air laws from the 1970's, they should be shut down and not allowed to operate until effective pollution controls are installed. No corporation should be above the law."

Because of their age, Midwest Generation's coal plants are subject to more lenient opacity regulations than more modern plants. But Midwest's Generation's own reports document that all of the company's coal plants regularly violate even these relaxed opacity regulations. Installing modern pollution controls could greatly reduce particulate matter from these plants.

“For years, Midwest Generation has resisted installing pollution controls and violated federal laws in order to run these old, dirty plants as cheaply as possible,” said Faith Bugel, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “People living near these plants have to breathe polluted air because Midwest Generation wants to cut costs.”

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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