Seven of the nation's largest utility companies have been sued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department for violating the Clean Air Act.
Complaints were filed against American Electric Power (AEP), Cinergy, FirstEnergy, Illinois Power, Southern Indiana Gas & Electric, Southern and Tampa Electric after one of the largest enforcement investigations in EPA history, agency Administrator Carol M. Browner said Nov. 3. Also named was the Tennessee Valley Authority. All are accused of making major modifications to many of their plants without installing equipment required to control smog, acid rain and soot.
Thirty-two plants targeted are in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of the violation at each plant prior to Jan. 30, 1997, and $27,500 for each day thereafter.
The enforcement action is "without merit and takes decades of industry maintenance and repair practices previously deemed acceptable by EPA and retroactively converts them to unlawful activities," said Dale Heydlauff, AEP's vice president of environmental affairs.
"EPA's new legal interpretation of the Clean Air Act is part of an obvious effort by the agency to impose new emissions reduction requirements through enforcement initiatives," Heydlauff said. "We regret that the agency has again demonstrated that it prefers headlines and confrontation over consensus building."
By taking this unprecedented action, EPA seeks to dramatically reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter that electric utility plants release into the atmosphere. The lawsuits, filed in five U.S. District Courts, seek to force the facilities to install appropriate air pollution-control technology.
"Controlling the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from these plants could lead to an 85 percent to 95 percent reduction, respectively, in these pollutants," Browner said. "Taken together, these reductions would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road and reduce acid rain by an estimated 15 percent."
The government and the companies are at odds over whether the plants underwent major modifications, which would require installation of the "best available control technology." EPA claims that the plants replaced large portions of boilers costing tens of millions of dollars and taking years to complete. The utilities maintain the work was routine maintenance, replacement of degraded equipment or failed components, or other repairs needed for the reliable, safe and efficient operation of the plant, none of which requires installation of new technology.
AEP, which serves 3 million customers in seven states, plans to vigorously defend itself against he allegations and believes it will prevail, Heydlauff said.