Spitzer Hails Major Win In Power Plant Air Pollution Case

Attorney General Spitzer today said that a groundbreaking federal court ruling in Ohio will lead to lower levels of power plant air pollution that causes acid rain and public health damage in New York. Spitzer called the decision "an uplifting victory for public health and the environment."

The ruling in federal court in Columbus, Ohio is the first decision in a case brought against a utility for violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements. The court’s decision is expected to exert a strong influence on many other similar cases.

"Today’s decision is a major victory for clean air in America," Spitzer said. "This ruling upholds the integrity of the Clean Air Act and underscores the responsibility of power plant owners to equip their plants with state-of-the-art pollution control devices."

U.S. Federal Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. ruled in Columbus, Ohio today that Ohio Edison Co. violated the Clean Air Act by making major modifications to the W.H. Sammis coal burning power plant - - a 2200 MW facility located on the banks of the Ohio River in the Town of Stratton.

The New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act require power plant operators to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade their old power plants.
The Bush Administration has proposed gutting New Source Review in regulations issued December 31, 2002 and a new round of regulations expected later this year. Attorney General Spitzer and 13 other Attorneys General have filed suit in federal court to preserve New Source Review.

"Today’s court victory is a clear illustration that strong enforcement of the Clean Air Act will result in significant air pollution reductions that will benefit all Americans," said Spitzer.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from coal-fired power plants cause acid rain devastation of lakes, ponds and forest land in the northeast and contributes to the formation of smog and particulate matter (soot) which exacerbate respiratory illness like asthma. Air pollution from the Sammis power plant and other coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic states drifts on prevailing winds over northeastern states. The Sammis plant has four smokestacks, one of which is 1,000 feet tall. By contrast, the Empire State Building in New York City is 1,453 feet tall.

New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and the federal Environmental Protection Agency sued Ohio Edison Co. for violations of the Clean Air Act in November 1999. In 2000, Judge Sargus split the case into two parts. A trial was held on the liability portion of the case in February 2003. The remedy portion of the trial is scheduled for March 2004.

The Sammis plant is made up of seven power-producing units that collectively emit nearly as much sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide as all of New York’s coal-fired power plants combined. In 2002, the Sammis plant emitted 145,113 tons of sulfur dioxide and 38,617 tons of nitrogen oxide. By comparison, in 2000 all the coal-fired power plants in New York combined emitted a total of 187,677 tons of sulfur dioxide and 42,706 tons of nitrogen oxide.

The lawsuit against Ohio Edison Co. is one in a series of Clean Air Act enforcement measures launched by Spitzer in late 1999.

Others include:

  • A $1.4 million settlement in June 2003 with Mirant New York Inc. to install pollution controls at its Lovett coal-fired power plant in New York’s Hudson Valley.
  • A $1.2 billion settlement with Virginia Electric Power Co. in April 2003 under which the company will retrofit its eight coal-fired power plants with pollution controls.
  • Ongoing federal litigation against Cinergy, American Electric Power Company and Niagara Mohawk.

To see a copy of the full decision go the www.ohsd.uscourts.gov.

The Ohio Edison case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Robert Rosenthal and Jared Snyder under the direction of Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter Lehner.


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