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$6 Million Settlement Includes Largest School Bus Pollution Control Project In Country

BOSTON - The Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that they have reached a $6 million enforcement case settlement with a local power plant that will result in significant air quality improvements for Boston school children and North Shore commuters, as well as a restored salt marsh in Chelsea and construction of a new commuter bike path across the Mystic River that will link Everett and Somerville.

In a settlement stemming from air quality violations over a five-year period at the Mystic Station power plant in Everett, plant owner Exelon Mystic LLC has agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty and fund more than $5 million of environmental projects in the Boston area. The settlement was filed in U.S. District Court yesterday in Boston.

Among the projects is $3.25 million to retrofit 500 Boston school buses with pollution control equipment and supply them with ultra low-polluting diesel fuel. The project, which will benefit more than 28,000 school children who ride the buses every day, will reduce tailpipe emissions from the buses by more than 90 percent, or more than 30 tons a year. Upon being completed in 2005, Boston will be the first major city in the country to have retrofitted its entire school bus fleet.

The settlement also includes $1.25 million for pollution control improvements to virtually all of the commuter rail trains operating out of Boston’s North Station rail terminal and $250,000 to build a commuter bike path along the Amelia Earhart Dam on the Mystic River. The new bike path over the dam will connect existing bike paths in Everett and Somerville.

“The extraordinary benefits in today's settlement will be directly passed on to the residents of the Boston area with a cleaner and safer environment in which to live,” said Thomas Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The decision by Exelon Mystic to cooperate and work with the government to address the environmental issues rather than engage in prolonged and counterproductive litigation should be commended.”

“This settlement is a big victory for Boston’s air quality and the millions of area residents who breathe that air every day,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “In addition to reducing particulate pollution from the Mystic power plant, Boston-area residents can look forward to hundreds of cleaner school buses, cleaner trains, restored wetlands and a new bike path linking Everett and Somerville.”

Located just over the Boston city line, the 2,600-megawatt Mystic Station power plant includes three 1950s-era oil fired units (400 megawatts total), a larger, primarily oil-fired unit (600 megawatts) built in the 1970s, and two brand new units (1,600 megawatts total) that burn only natural gas. EPA’s complaint alleged over 6,000 violations of the Clean Air Act’s opacity limits at the four oil-fired units from June 1998 to November 2003. Opacity is a measure of smoke thickness, and is regulated to prevent visible air pollutants such as soot and other particulate matter from polluting the air. Most of the violations took place at the three oldest units, which virtually ceased operations in March 2003.

Fine particulate matter from combustion sources such as power plants is a serious public health concern, particularly for sensitive populations such as children, the elderly and asthmatics. Asthma is the leading cause of childhood emergency room hospitalizations in Boston. In some Boston neighborhoods, including Roxbury and Dorchester, asthma rates are more than double the state average.

After EPA issued a Notice of Violation in 2001 and a Compliance Order in 2002, Mystic spent over $2.5 million on new equipment and operating procedures, which dramatically improved the plant’s compliance with opacity regulations and reduced its particulate emissions.

Under the settlement announced today, Exelon will pay a $1 million fine and spend over $5.1 million on five local environmental projects. The projects include: