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Post date: April 21 2003

Virginia Utility To Make Major Air Pollution Cuts

Attorney General Spitzer and federal officials announced that Dominion Virginia Power, formerly known as Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO), has agreed to sharply reduce air pollution from eight coal-fired power plants in Virginia and West Virginia. Emissions from the plants cause severe acid rain, urban smog, and public health damage in New York and other northeastern states.

The agreement was filed today in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

This agreement -- the largest enforcement action of its kind -- is the result of negotiations that began after Spitzer announced in September 1999 his intention to sue the owners of 17 Midwestern and mid-Atlantic coal-fired power plants, for violating the federal Clean Air Act. Spitzer filed a lawsuit against VEPCO in July 2000.

"This settlement illustrates the vast public health and environmental gains that can be achieved by enforcing the Clean Air Act," said Spitzer. "By enforcing the law, we have been able to achieve steep and swift emissions reductions that will ultimately reduce air pollution from these power plants by 480 million pounds per year. We can all breathe easier - - literally - - knowing that this pollution will soon be removed from the nation's air."

VEPCO, now known as Dominion Virginia Power Company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Power. The company is based in Richmond, Virginia.

Under the settlement, VEPCO will spend approximately $1.2 billion over 12 years to reduce its sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by about 70 percent from 2000 levels. VEPCO will achieve these sharp emissions reductions by installing state-of-the art smokestack scrubbers and other advanced pollution control technologies at its power plants.

In addition, VEPCO will pay $5.3 million in penalties to the federal government and $13.9 million to fund environmental projects, with $2.1 million going to New York to install solar energy equipment on government-owned buildings in the state. That project will be administered by the NYS Energy Research Development Authority. Municipal governments will be notified of this solar funding opportunity in the coming months and will be encouraged to submit proposals for projects.

"Solar energy facilities located in cities will generate significant energy, particularly at times of peak demand such as hot summer days when many people are using air conditioning," said Spitzer. "Hot days are also the worst days for smog and ozone, so this investment in solar energy will make a significant difference in urban air quality. New York should be a leader in solar energy development and it is my hope that our settlement will be a catalyst for the development of a promising energy option that many New Yorkers support."

VEPCO will also pay $2.7 million to purchase and install filters on New Jersey Transit commuter buses operating between New Jersey and New York City. This project will help improve air quality in New York City by significantly reducing harmful particles in the diesel exhaust of buses.

In his lawsuit against VEPCO, Spitzer charged that the company violated the federal Clean Air Act by making major modifications to extend the life of its power plants or increase their production without also installing required pollution controls. At the power plant named in Spitzer's lawsuit, the production of electricity more than doubled between 1980 and 1988, yet the company failed to install the legally required pollution controls.

In addition to upgrading its power plants, 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 air pollution now drifts on prevailing winds over New York and other northeastern states. The Mount Storm plant, which was initially operated only a few hours a day to meet peak customer demand, is now being run nearly around the clock.

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

Spitzer and federal officials have other related air pollution cases pending against Ohio Edison Company, American Electric Power Company, and Cinergy Corporation addressing a total of 13 other coal-fired plants. In addition, Spitzer and the State Department of Environmental Conservation have brought enforcement actions against eight coal-fired power plants in New York.

"The settlement with VEPCO illustrates the need to both enforce and defend the Clean Air Act," said Spitzer. "The Clean Air Act is a cornerstone of our environmental law and should be strengthened, not weakened; revered, not reviled; embraced, not eviscerated."

The VEPCO case is being handled by Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Peter H. Lehner and Assistant Attorneys General Rachel Zaffrann, Lemuel Srolovic and Jared Snyder.