Alabama, North Dakota Power Plants Agree to New Pollution Controls

Power plant operators in Alabama and North Dakota have agreed to spend more than $300 million to reduce pollution and settle charges of Clean Air Act violations.

WASHINGTON — Power plant operators in Alabama and North Dakota have agreed to spend more than $300 million to reduce pollution and settle charges of Clean Air Act violations.

The settlements this week require Alabama Power Company and two North Dakota member-owned cooperatives -- Minnkota Power and Square Butte Electric -- to install pollution controls. They are the 10th and 11th such settlements nationally, and would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 53,200 tons a year and nitrogen oxides pollution by more than 14,400 tons a year.

Though just a fraction of the 19 million tons of nitrogen oxides and 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide emitted nationally last year, the pollutants contribute to smog, haze, acid rain and fine particles linked to asthma and other respiratory and heart diseases.

The actions are the latest in a string of Clean Air Act settlements negotiated by the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency, despite a Bush administration push to rewrite the rules under which settlements can be brought. The administration has tried to make it easier for companies to avoid having to pay for costly pollution-reduction equipment.

Granta Y. Nakayama, who heads EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said the settlements show the administration's commitment to "vigorous, nationwide enforcement" of clean air laws to force polluters to make major emissions reductions.

The North Dakota case began five years ago under the Bush administration; the Alabama case was started by the Clinton administration in 1999 as part of a broader initiative targeting 51 aging, coal-burning power plants, mainly in the Ohio Valley and the South.

The cases allege that plants violated the Clean Air Act's 1977 "new source review" program, which requires operators who modify plants and significantly increase pollution to obtain federal permits and possibly install state-of-the-art pollution reduction technology.

"We hope now to put this case behind us," said Willard Bowers, Alabama Power's vice president of environmental affairs. "We're producing more power, with fewer emissions -- and we'll be reducing emissions even further in the coming years."

Alabama Power is expected to spend more than $200 million at its James H. Miller, Jr. Plant, a coal-fired utility near West Jefferson, Ala. The proposed consent decree must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

The North Dakota agreement, the first involving a power plant utility in the West, calls for the Milton R. Young Station near Center, N.D., to install more than $100 million in pollution controls at two steam-generating units. The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.

John Graves, Minnkota environmental manager, said the pollution cuts may enable the company to build a third steam-generating unit at the lignite coal-fired power plant, which was the nation's second-largest emitter of nitrogen oxides last year.

Minnkota and Square Butte also would underwrite $5 million in renewable energy development projects, including wind power projects in North Dakota and Minnesota to save energy and cut pollution further.

Source: Associated Press

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