In 1999, the Environmental Enforcement Section embarked on an effort to bring coal-fired power plants into compliance with the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act. These provisions, enacted by Congress in 1977, require that major sources of air pollution that were either newly constructed or “modified” after 1977 obtain NSR permits, install state-of-the-art pollution controls, and comply with stringent emission limitations. NSR-mandated permits and pollution controls dramatically reduce emission of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. Collectively, coal-burning power plants are responsible for approximately 70% of the nation’s sulfur dioxide pollution and a significant portion of nitrogen oxide emissions. Sulfur dioxide is a major contributor to acid rain, while nitrogen oxides are a major contributor to ground level ozone and smog, and both pollutants combine in the atmosphere to form fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which presents significant risks to public health.
Our judicial enforcement efforts began with the coordinated filing of lawsuits against seven coal-fired utilities on November 3, 1999, alleging that these utilities had “modified” their plants in ways that increased annual air pollution, thus triggering NSR pollution control requirements. The initiative has expanded substantially since that time. The power plants that we have sued include many of the largest coal-burning utilities in the United States. Our lawsuits seek to bring these coal-fired power plants into compliance with the Clean Air Act through the installation of the requisite pollution controls, compliance with applicable emission limitations, and the payment of civil penalties. As of the end of 2014, we had filed over thirty civil enforcement actions, and entered into 28 judicial settlements requiring installation and operation of billions of dollars in pollution controls that will remove over 2.3 million tons per year of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the air.