Mid-atlantic Utility Agrees To Cut Emissions Linked To Acid Rain And Smog
Attorney General Spitzer and federal officials today announced that the Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) has agreed to significantly reduce air pollution from eight coal-fired power plants in Virginia and West Virginia. Emissions from these plants cause severe acid rain and public health problems in New York.
The landmark agreement is the result of negotiations that began after Spitzer announced his intention to sue the owners of 17 Midwestern and mid-Atlantic coal-fired power plants, including two owned by VEPCO, for violating the Federal Clean Air Act.
"This settlement is a long awaited breath of fresh air for all New Yorkers," Spitzer said. "More than 270,000 tons per year of toxic pollutants will be removed from air currents flowing to New York and other Northeastern states."
"The agreement will serve as a model for continuing efforts to save the Adirondack Park from destruction and help address the growing public health threat of pollution-induced asthma and lung disease," he said.
Spitzer joined Carol Browner, head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Lois Schiffer of the federal Department of Justice in making the announcement. The two federal officials, Attorney General Spitzer and VEPCO officials signed the agreement today.
Under the settlement, VEPCO will spend $1.2 billion over 12 years to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions by 70 percent and its nitrogen oxide emissions by 71 percent. These sharp reductions in emissions will be accomplished by VEPCO installing state-of-the art smokestack scrubbers and other pollution control technologies at all their plants.
VEPCO has agreed to pay $5.3 million in penalties to the federal government and an additional $13.9 million to fund environmental projects, with a portion going to New York.
Spitzer's lawsuits against VEPCO and other utilities marked the first time a state directly sued out-of-state power plants for violating the Clean Air Act. The legal action a year ago triggered a flurry of activity on power plant pollution. Within a few months of his announcement:
- The federal government filed its own legal actions against various power plants;
- Several Northeastern states including New Jersey, Vermont and Massachusetts joined New York's lawsuits;
- New York Governor George Pataki announced that strict new regulations would be issued to reduce pollution from New York power plants; and,
- Spitzer and the state Department of Environmental Conservation began investigating possible violations of the Clean Air Act by eight in-state power plants.
In his 1999 lawsuit against VEPCO, Spitzer charged that the company violated the Federal Clean Air Act by making major modifications to extend or increase production without installing required pollution controls. At the power plant units targeted by Spitzer, power production more than doubled between 1980 and 1988, yet the company failed to install the legally required pollution controls.
For instance, VEPCO doubled the height of the smokestack at its Mount Storm coal-fired plant to 730 feet in the mid 1980s to ensure that air pollution from the facility did not fall on nearby communities. The result is that the plant's emissions now drift hundreds of miles on prevailing winds to distant states such as New York. The Mount Storm plant, which was initially operated a few hours a day to meet peak customer demand, is now being run nearly around the clock to meet VEPCO's basic power needs.
The agreement covers the following VEPCO coal-fired power plants:
- Mount Storm, at Mount Storm Lake, West Virginia;
- Chesterfield, in Chester, Virginia;
- Bremo, in Bremo Bluff, Virginia;
- Chesapeake Energy Center, in Chesapeake, Virginia;
- Clover, in Clover, Virginia;
- North Branch, in Bayard, West Virginia;
- Possum Point, in Dumfries, Virginia;
- Yorktown, in Yorktown, Virginia
"VEPCO deserves credit for coming to the negotiating table and accepting its responsibility to reduce air pollution from its power plants," said Spitzer.
VEPCO is a unit of Dominion, an energy, telecommunications and financial services company based in Richmond, VA. The company, which traces its business roots to former Presidents George Washington and James Madison, has 4 million electric and natural gas customers and reports annual revenues of $8.6 billion. Dominion describes itself as the nation's largest fully integrated electric and natural gas company.
The agreement with VEPCO is expected to be finalized in the next 65 days. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Lemuel Srolovic, Jared Snyder and Rachel Zaffrann under the direction of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter Lehner.
Spitzer and federal officials are continuing efforts to reach similar agreements with other Midwest and Mid-Atlantic utilities responsible for emissions linked to acid rain and smog.
Attention newsrooms: Audio on this subject is available at 1-877-345-3466, (choice #3), a 24-hour, toll-free newline. A detailed map, and supporting documents are available on the Attorney General's website: www.ag.ny.gov.