EPA, Northeast States Settle Pollution Lawsuit with Ohio Utility
WASHINGTON An Ohio company will pay $1.1 billion in fines and cleanup costs at four power plants in the second-largest federal settlement with an electric utility over air pollution.
The case, filed in 1999 against FirstEnergy Corp.'s W.H. Sammis plant north of Steubenville, was the first involving dozens of Midwest plants to go to trial over accusations that the plants spewed dirty air that caused smog and health problems across the Northeast.
A federal judge in Columbus, Ohio, ruled in August 2003 after a three-week trial that Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy had violated the Clean Air Act by making physical changes at its coal-fired plant without upgrading pollution controls.
Friday's agreement, which involved the Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, completes the penalty phase of the case.
"This is a great result for the health of all the people who live downwind from this power plant and for the environment of the Northeast," said Thomas L. Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for environmental issues at the Justice Department.
The agreement -- which still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. in Columbus -- would lead to an annual reduction of 212,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, emissions blamed for acid rain, one of the largest reductions in emissions ever.
That represents about 80 percent of the pollutants coming out of the Sammis plant, which must install by 2012 pollution controls on all seven of its units, said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance.
Additional reductions would be achieved by installing pollution control equipment at two other FirstEnergy plants: R.E. Burger plant in Shadyside and Eastlake plant in Eastlake. Sulfur dioxide scrubbers will be updated at the company's Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pa.
"This builds on the significant progress we have been making to protect the environment while resolving uncertainty," FirstEnergy president and CEO Anthony Alexander said in a statement.
The settlement also includes $8.5 million in civil penalties, the second highest ever.
The highest civil penalty ever levied against an electric utility over air pollution was $9 million, lodged March 7 against Dynegy Inc.
A case against Virginia Electric Power Co. was settled in 2003 for an estimated $1.2 billion total cost to achieve 237,000 tons in pollutant reductions.
Environmentalists praised the settlement, saying such a reduction in pollutants would not have occurred had Congress passed President Bush's clean air plan allowing power plant owners to buy pollution "rights" from other utilities.
"This cleanup settlement is graphic evidence that the Clean Air Act is working, as long as it is aggressively enforced," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
However, Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group, said the five years it took to reach a settlement is evidence that current compliance methods are inefficient. This is the ninth of 15 similar cases to settle.
The settlement also requires FirstEnergy to pay $25 million for environmental mitigation projects; $14.4 million for wind power projects in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York; $10 million for environmental projects in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; $400,000 for a solar power project in Allegheny County, Pa.; and $215,000 for an environmental project at Ohio's Shenandoah National Park.
Source: Associated Press