Air Pollution Suit Targets Upstate Power Plant

Attorney General Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner (DEC) Denise M. Sheehan today announced plans to sue Rochester Gas & Electric Company (RG&E) for longstanding violations of clean air laws at one of the company's coal-fired power plants.

Attorney General Spitzer sent RG&E a "notice of intent" letter today identifying federal Clean Air Act violations at the company's Russell Station power plant in Greece, New York. The law requires that such a letter be sent at least 60 days before the filing of a lawsuit.

"The State informed RG&E over six years ago that its plant was violating the law, but the company refused to cut its air pollution," Spitzer said. "A lawsuit will ask the court to compel the company to take appropriate steps to curtail its harmful emissions."

"Projects undertaken illegally by RG&E at the Russell Station facility are resulting in the excessive emissions of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide and New York State is committed to holding violators accountable. Through the implementation of appropriate pollution control technology at power plants statewide, we will continue to reduce harmful power plant emissions and furthering Governor Pataki's record of significant air quality improvements," said DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan.

The Russell Station, built in 1948, is one of the State's oldest and dirtiest power plants. Last year, it emitted more than 1,800 tons of nitrogen oxides and 15,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, compounds linked to serious environmental damage and public health problems.

The State's lawsuit will allege that RG&E made major upgrades to the plant, but failed to install the necessary pollution controls as required by law. RG&E claims that those modifications were merely routine maintenance and therefore exempt from so-called New Source Review pollution control requirements.

"The emissions from power plants can make people sick and can cut lives short. It is always our hope that plant owners would appreciate the benefit that reduced emissions would have on the public's health. In this case the owners did not, but we are fortunate that the State of New York is willing to utilize all legal tools that they have to get these dirty and dangerous plants cleaned up," said Margaret J. Collins, Senior Director for Policy with the American Lung Association of New York State's Rochester office.

The lawsuit will build on a national clean air initiative begun in 1999. The Attorney General has filed lawsuits against companies that own polluting coal-fired plants in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Those suits have led to major reductions in harmful emissions that drift on prevailing winds and contribute to acid rain and smog in the Northeast.

In February 2005, Governor Pataki and Attorney General Spitzer announced two landmark agreements with NRG Energy, Inc. AES, and New York State Electric and Gas Corporation power companies that dramatically reduce emissions from six separate upstate coal-fired power plants. These agreements represent the largest reduction in air pollution levels ever attained through settlement in New York State. In addition, New York State has enacted regulations that are resulting in significant reductions of acid rain, ozone formation, and other negative effects of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.

The RG&E case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Robert Rosenthal and Jared Snyder, under the supervision of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter Lehner. At DEC it is being handled by Assistant Counsel Michele Crew, Senior Attorney Lisa Wilkinson, and Regional Attorney Paul D'Amato, under the supervision of Acting General Counsel Alison Crocker.

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