(202) 260-4355


TDD: (202) 514-1888


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As part of an ongoing initiative to stop pollution illegally released from coal-fired power plants, the Justice Department, acting on behalf of the EPA, today expanded lawsuits filed against three electric utilities in November 1999.

The United States is increasing the number of power plants cited in complaints filed against American Electric Power, Cinergy, and their affiliates. The government also is asking the U.S. District Court in Atlanta for permission to increase the number of power plants and companies cited in its lawsuit against Southern Company subsidiaries.

"Dirty air effects all of us, and this Administration is committed to pursuing companies that are to blame," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "The actions of these companies compromised our health and degraded our environment."

In November 1999, the United States charged that these companies violated the Clean Air Act at 12 of their power plants by making major modifications to the plants without installing equipment required to control smog, acid rain and soot. The government asserts today that another 12 facilities owned by these defendants also failed to comply with these Clean Air Act requirements.

"Today, we are taking another step in our ongoing enforcement against illegal and harmful levels of air pollution from coal-fired power plants," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Yesterday, we announced a billion-dollar settlement with a Florida utility to cut such emissions. We hope the utilities involved in today's action 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."

The power plants targeted today include five American Electric Power facilities in Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia; two Cinergy plants in Indiana; and five plants in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama operated by Southern Company affiliates. Each of these facilities were cited in Notices of Violation that the EPA served on the companies in November 1999.

The United States asserts that these power plants illegally released massive amounts of air pollutants for years, contributing to some of the most severe environmental problems facing the nation today. The plants have operated without the best available emissions-control technology, increasing air pollution near the facilities and far downwind of the plants, along the Eastern Seaboard.

In addition to the companies cited today, the federal government in November 1999 also brought actions against FirstEnergy, Illinois Power, Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Company, and Tampa Electric Company, or their affiliates. This enforcement initiative now targets a total of 29 coal-fired power plants located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

On February 29, 2000, the United States announced the first settlement under the initiative. The agreement with Tampa Electric requires the company to significantly reduce emissions from its power plants and pay a $3.5 million fine. Tampa Electric will install permanent emissions-control equipment to meet stringent pollution limits; implement a series of interim pollution-reduction measures to reduce emissions while the permanent controls are installed; and retire pollution emission allowances that Tampa Electric or others could use, or sell to others, to emit additional pollution into the environment.

By filing these unprecedented lawsuits, the United States aims to reduce dramatically the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter that coal-fired power plants release into the atmosphere. The lawsuits seek to force the facilities to install appropriate air pollution control technology to reduce emissions.

The United States will seek significant penalties from all the utilities. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation at each power 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 United States asserts that the utilities each made major modifications to their plants in order to extend their lives and avoid the cost of building new plants. These projects included replacing large portions of the boilers that are the heart of the plants. Many of these actions cost tens of millions of dollars and took years to complete. Under the Clean Air Act, modifications of this kind require companies to install the "best available control technology," but the utilities did not do so.

The lawsuits seek to force the facilities to install appropriate air pollution-control technology to significantly reduce tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter illegally emitted into the air each year. It asserts that collectively, electric utility plants in the United States 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.

  • Sulfur dioxide interacts in the atmosphere to form sulfate aerosols, which can travel long distances through the air and can be inhaled. The inhalation of high levels of sulfate aerosols is associated with increased sickness and mortality from lung disorders, such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • Nitrogen oxides are major producers of ground-level ozone, or smog, which can decrease lung function -- especially among children who are active outdoors -- and aggravate respiratory problems. Nitrogen oxides are also transformed into nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous pollutant that can constrict lower respiratory passages, create difficulty in breathing, and weaken immune systems.
  • Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides interact in the atmosphere with water and oxygen to form nitric and sulfuric acids, commonly known as acid rain. Acid rain, which also comes in the form of snow or sleet, "acidifies" lakes and streams and damages trees at high elevations. It also accelerates the decay of building materials and paints, including irreplaceable buildings, statues, and sculptures that are part of our nation's cultural heritage.
  • Particulate matter is often called soot. Breathing high concentrations of particulate matter can damage lung tissue and contribute to cancer and respiratory disease.