WASHINGTON, D.C. – 19 March 2005 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency today announced the settlement of their landmark Clean Air Act case alleging that Ohio Edison Company, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., violated the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act at the W.H. Sammis Station, a coal-fired power plant in Stratton, Ohio. The states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which are co-plaintiffs in the government’s lawsuit, also join the settlement. The consent decree agreed to by Ohio Edison will reduce emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the Sammis plant, as well as from other Ohio Edison and FirstEnergy coal-fired power plants, by over 212,000 tons per year. The pollution controls and other measures required by the consent decree are expected to cost approximately $1.1 billion.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in 1999 as part of a federal government initiative, joined by the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, to bring operators of coal-fired power plants into compliance with the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act. The Sammis Station is one of the largest sources of air pollution in the nation, emitting a total of about 205,000 tons of SO2 and NOx in 2003. After a four-week trial in 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio agreed with the government that there were NSR violations at the Sammis plant. The court had not yet held the second trial needed to determine what pollution controls, penalty and other remedies would be required for these violations. The settlement resolves the remedy phase of this litigation, thereby averting a trial.
Sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides cause severe respiratory problems and contribute to childhood asthma. These pollutants are also significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze, which impair visibility in national parks. Emissions from power plants are carried significant distances downwind, causing air quality problems in other states to which the polluted air is carried.
The consent decree will reduce SO2 and NOx emissions from the Sammis Station by a total of 134,500 tons of SO2 and 28,567 tons of NOx per year. Pollution controls will be installed at all seven of the Sammis steam-generating units, and a plant-wide cap will be imposed on SO2 and NOx emissions. The two largest units, which account for over half the plant’s pollutant emissions, will receive state-of-the-art pollution controls known as flue gas desulfurization devices (scrubbers), which reduce SO2 emissions by at least 95 percent, and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) devices, which reduce NOx emissions by at least 90 percent. Pollution controls will be installed between 2005 and 2011. The final plant-wide caps and emission reduction levels will be achieved in 2012.
Ohio Edison and FirstEnergy will provide over 49,000 tons per year of additional reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions from three other power plants: the Burger plant in Belmont County, Ohio; the Mansfield plant in Beaver County, Pa.; and the Eastlake plant in Eastlake, Ohio. These additional reductions will be achieved by upgrading existing pollution controls or installing new pollution controls at these plants. These additional reductions will bring the total SO2 and NOx emission reductions under the consent decree to over 212,000 tons per year by 2012.
“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 the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are pleased that Ohio Edison has decided to come into compliance and take on the responsibility for reducing the pollution from their plants.”
“We will achieve major air pollution reductions and improvements in air quality through this consent decree. This result has tremendous significance for our ongoing effort to ensuring cleaner air for all,” said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
“This settlement creates the new high-water mark for putting resources into the communities affected most directly by a utility company’s actions,” said Gregory G. Lockhart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “This forward-looking agreement can serve as the foundation upon which we build new ways to reduce pollution and invest in renewable energy sources to benefit future generations.”
This is the ninth settlement that the federal government has entered into to address Clean Air Act NSR violations by coal-fired power plants. The combined effect of the settlements achieved to date will be to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants by over 940,000 tons each year – through the installation and operation of about $5.5 billion worth of pollution controls. In terms of both the amount of the pollution reductions and cost, this settlement is the second largest of the power plant NSR settlements to date. The $8.5 million civil penalty imposed is the second largest penalty against a power plant.
The $25 million amount for mitigation projects, to compensate for the harmful effects of Ohio Edison’s past violations, is the largest mitigation project commitment in any of the United States’ NSR settlements with utilities to date. Ohio Edison will fund $14.4 million in renewable energy development projects, specifically wind power projects in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or western New York. The wind power generated will displace an equivalent amount of coal-fired power and thereby further reduce emissions from coal-fired plants. Ohio Edison may propose, alternatively, to fund new projects to generate electricity from landfill gas in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
Ohio Edison also will provide a total of $10 million to the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to perform environmentally beneficial projects related to air pollution in those states. The specific projects will be determined by the states after the consent decree is entered. Allegheny County will receive $400,000 to install a solar power project at one of the county’s municipal buildings. Ohio Edison also will provide $215,000 to the National Park Service for an environmentally beneficial project related to air pollution in Shenandoah National Park, a Clean Air Act “Class I Area” that has been adversely impacted by emissions from Sammis and other power plants.
The proposed consent decree will be lodged with the United States District Court in Columbus, Ohio for a thirty-day public comment period.