Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

U.S. Settlement with Michigan Utility to Reduce Emissions at Its Coal-Fired Power Plants, Fund Projects to Benefit Environment and Communities

Company Estimates Upgrades Will Cost Approximately $1 Billion

WASHINGTON – In a settlement with the United States, Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, has agreed to install pollution control technology, continue operating existing pollution controls and comply with emission rates to reduce harmful air pollution from the company’s five coal-fired power plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon and Luna Pier, Michigan, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today.  The settlement will resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Air Act by modifying their facilities in a way that caused the release of excess sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions by 46,500 tons per year, which includes approximately 38,400 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 8,100 tons per year of nitrogen oxide (NOx).  The company estimates that it will spend approximately $1 billion to implement the required measures.  The pollution reductions will be achieved through the installation, upgrade, and operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices designed to reduce emissions and protect public health.  Consumers Energy will also take several coal-fired units offline and may repower additional coal-fired units with natural gas.

The settlement also requires that the company pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations and spend at least $7.7 million on environmental projects to help mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution on the environment and benefit local communities. 

“Today’s settlement will bring cleaner air to residents in Michigan by removing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollution from the atmosphere,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “This agreement will render benefits to communities far into the future with pollution-reduction projects that will improve public health and help restore natural resources downwind of the plants."  

“The required pollution controls and funding for mitigation projects will reduce harmful pollution in American communities,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  “This case demonstrates that energy can be provided to local communities in a responsible way that significantly reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide known to contribute to serious health concerns.”

“Michigan’s greatest assets are our natural resources,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan.  “This settlement will protect the health of Michigan residents and ensure clean air for future generations.”   

The settlement requires that the company install pollution control technology and implement other measures to reduce sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions from its five coal-fired power plants, comprising 12 operating units.  Among other requirements, the company must comply with declining system-wide limits for SO2 and NOx and meet emission rates.  In addition, the company must retire or refuel two units to natural gas and retire an additional five units.

SO2 and NOx, two predominant pollutants emitted from power plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze.  These pollutants are converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.

The settlement also requires Consumers Energy to spend at least $7.7 million on projects that will benefit the environment and local communities, including paying $500,000 to the National Park Service for the restoration of land, watersheds, vegetation and forests or combating invasive species in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. 

The remaining $7.2 million will be spent on a series of mitigation projects.  Potential projects include efforts to reduce vehicle emissions, install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, replace or retrofit wood burning appliances and protect and restore ecologically significant lands in Michigan.  Consumers Energy has five years to complete its selected projects.

This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements.  The total combined SO2 and NOx emission reductions secured from all these settlements will exceed 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s second-largest electric and natural gas utility, providing electric service to more than 6 million people in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  It can be viewed at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

More on the settlement:  www2.epa.gov/enforcement/consumers-energy-clean-air-act-settlement

More information about EPA’s enforcement initiative: www.epa.gov/compliance/data/planning/initiatives/2011airpollution.html

Press Release Number: 
14-985
Updated September 16, 2014