FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2000(202) 514-2008
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
U.S. FILES CLEAN AIR LAWSUIT AGAINST DUKE ENERGY
Complaint Is Part Of National Initiative To Stop
Illegal Pollution From Coal-Fired Power Plants
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department on behalf of the EPA today filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy, charging that eight of the electric utility's power plants illegally released massive amounts of air pollutants for years.
The lawsuit filed in Greensboro, N.C. alleges that Duke Energy violated the Clean Air Act by making major modifications to its coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas without installing the equipment required to control smog, acid rain and soot. For more than a decade, the plants have operated without the best available emissions-control technology, increasing air pollution near the facilities and also downwind of the plants, along the Eastern Seaboard.
Today, the Clinton-Gore Administration is taking another step in its ongoing enforcement against illegal and harmful levels of air pollution from coal-fired power plants," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Yesterday, we announced a $1.4 billion dollar settlement with Cinergy to cut such emissions. We hope that Duke Energy also will agree to reduce their emissions. Such an action would provide great health benefits to people living in the vicinity of these plants and also to communities located miles downwind. Until then, we will continue to pursue these cases."
This lawsuit is the latest step in the federal government's ongoing initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants. The United States aims to reduce dramatically the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter that electric utility plants release into the atmosphere.
"Dirty air effects all of us, and the Justice Department is committed to pursuing companies that are to blame," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Environment Division. "The actions of this company compromised our health and degraded our environment."
The lawsuit against Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke seeks to force the utility to install appropriate air pollution-control technology that will significantly reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The United States also seeks civil penalties. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation at each plant prior to January 30, 1997, and $27,500 for each day thereafter.
Power plants existing at the time the Clean Air Act was amended in the late 1970s were "grandfathered." Therefore, utility companies were not required to retrofit those existing plants with new air pollution control equipment, unless the utilities undertook major modifications of those plants. The government asserts that Duke Energy made major modifications to its plants in order to extend their lives and avoid the cost of building new plants. Under the Clean Air Act, modifications of this kind require installation of the "best available control technology," but the utilities did not do so.
Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States. They account for nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions each year and 30 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions. In addition to detrimental health effects on asthma sufferers, the elderly and children, power plant emissions have been linked to forest degradation, waterway damage, reservoir contamination, and deterioration of stone and copper in buildings.
To combat these environmental effects, the EPA and the Justice Department in November 1999 launched a national initiative, targeting electric utilities throughout the Midwest and Southeast whose coal-fired power plants violate the law. In addition to Duke Energy, the United States has brought legal actions for Clean Air Act violations against American Electric Power, Cinergy, FirstEnergy, Illinois Power, Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company, the Southern Company, and the Tampa Electric Company. The EPA has brought a related administrative action against the Tennessee Valley Authority - a federal agency that owns and operates many coal-fired power plants.
Yesterday, the EPA and the Justice Department and announced a $1.4 billion agreement with Cinergy to settle the Clean Air Act claims, calling for significant upgrades in pollution control technology at 10 power plants in Ohio and Indiana. In February 2000, the federal government reached a similar settlement with the Tampa Electric Company addressing two Florida power plants. Also as part of the initiative, the United States last month reached an agreement in principle with Virginia Electric Power Company, which calls for the Richmond-based utility to undertake major environmental improvements at eight plants in Virginia and West Virginia. The lawsuits against the other utilities continue.