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Post date: September 15 1999

Spitzer Takes On Midwestern Power Plants Over Acid Rain & Smog

Attorney General Spitzer today announced landmark legal action against 17 coal-fired power plants in the Midwest whose dirty smokestack emissions are linked to acid rain damage, smog and public health hazards in New York.

"Air pollution does not respect state boundaries," Spitzer said at a news conference at the State Museum. "While we in New York are striving to protect our residents and our natural resources with tough environmental standards, we are under siege by air-borne pollution originating far beyond our borders. The time has come to act decisively against those companies whose emissions are destroying our forests, harming wildlife, increasing the rate of asthma among children and disfiguring our public buildings and monuments."

Smokestack emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power plants in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky drift hundreds of miles on prevailing westerly winds.

These emissions have been linked to:

  • degradation of forests in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains;
  • damaged waterways from Lake Placid to Long Island Sound;
  • contamination of New York City reservoirs with mercury;
  • sharp increases in asthma, especially in New York City; and,
  • deterioration of stone and copper work in public buildings and monuments, including the State Capitol and the Statue of Liberty.

Spitzer's action cites a specific provision of the federal Clean Air Act that power plants undergoing major modifications must comply with the same stringent pollution controls required of new plants. Spitzer charged that some Midwestern power plants have failed to comply with this law.

The targeted coal-fired power plants emit enormous amounts of pollution that cause acid rain and smog. For example, the Gavin power plant in Ohio emitted more nitrogen oxides in 1998 than the 21 dirtiest New York power plants combined.

In recent months lawyers from Spitzer's staff visited states in the Midwest where they examined records related to the operations of power plants and documented that the facilities named in the lawsuit have not complied with pollution control requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Rather than take legal action against another state or the federal government over damaging pollution from distant states, Spitzer is directly challenging the power plants that produce the emissions, as permitted in the Clean Air Act.

Spitzer's action was widely hailed by a wide range of public health, environmental, historic preservation and sportsmens advocacy groups.

The initiative is being lead by Peter Lehner, head of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, and by Assistant Attorneys General Jared Snyder, Rachel Zaffrann and Eugene Kelly.