U.S. issues fines, orders upgrades at coal-fired power plants

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EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Evan Bush

In the latest settlement targeting toxic emissions from power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department have issued a $950,000 fine and ordered millions in pollution control technology at three coal-fired power plants in Wisconsin.

Plant operator Dairyland Power Cooperative will pay the civil penalty, invest $150 million in pollution control technology and spend $5 million on environmental mitigation projects, the EPA said in a Clean Air Act pact announced June 29.

“This settlement will improve air quality in Wisconsin and downwind areas by significantly reducing releases of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other harmful pollutants,” Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement.

The upgrades, federal officials said, will reduce annual sulfur dioxide emissions by 23,000 tons and nitrogen oxide emissions by 6,000 tons from 2008 levels.

The settlement resolves litigation concerning Dairyland’s plants in Alma and Genoa, Wis. The Sierra Club filed a civil lawsuit alleging Clean Air Act violations in 2010. Those same allegations were repeated in an EPA notice of violation two years later.

Both the Sierra Club and the EPA contended that Dairyland Power had failed New Source Review and New Source Performance Standards provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Shahla Werner, Wisconsin chapter director of the Sierra Club, told the Center for Public Integrity that the plants had “violated emissions limits for one or all of the following: carbon monoxide, opacity, and particulate matter numerous times over the past several years.”

The company “did not violate the law,” Bill Berg, president and CEO of Dairyland Power, said in a news release. He said the civil penalty was “inappropriate,” but that “a long, drawn out legal battle would not be in the best financial interest of Dairyland’s members.”

The consent decree “recognizes Dairyland’s major investments in air emission controls at our plants and the significant emissions reductions that have already been achieved,” Berg said. “This agreement eliminates the financial risk of pursuing litigation while still achieving the environmental improvements that both we and the other parties involved deem appropriate.”

The operator must install new emissions control equipment on its three largest units and close down three of its Alma facilities. The $5 million Dairyland will pay for community environment and human health projects includes $250,000 each to the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, to mitigate the damage from excess emissions over the years.

“It seems like we got the best deal we possibly could in this situation,” the Sierra Club’s Werner said in a phone interview.

The settlement is part of an EPA initiative that focuses on coal-fired power plants’ compliance with New Source Review standards. Since the initiative began in 1999, the Justice Department and EPA have secured 22 judicial settlements and 23 settlements overall.

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