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Post date: February 20 2008

Cuomo Announces Settlement To Close Rochester Gas & Electric's Coal-burning Russell Power Plant

ROCHESTER, NY (February 20, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with Rochester Gas and Electric (“RG&E”) that will require the company to shut down its coal-burning Russell power plant in the Town of Greece, Monroe County.  The agreement also mandates that if RG&E replaces the coal-burning facility, they must build a cleaner, state-of-the-art natural gas plant.  As a result of this settlement, thousands of tons of air pollution will be eliminated in the Rochester area annually. 

“This settlement represents a victory for the residents of the Rochester area on several fronts,” said Attorney General Cuomo.  “The Russell coal plant will finally be closed and the stage is now set to replace it with a cleaner, more productive, state-of-the-art facility.  From asthma, to acid rain, to ozone, the closure of the Russell plant will reduce the harmful side effects of a coal-burning facility.  The Rochester area will further benefit from the energy projects funded by the agreement.  With this settlement, we worked productively with RG&E to ensure that the Rochester region’s future energy needs are met with cleaner power.”

“The Russell plant is located directly upwind of both the City of Rochester and the Adirondacks and emits harmful pollution at a higher rate than any other power plant in New York State,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis said.  “These emissions contribute to acid rain and ozone and to elevated levels of asthma.  Today’s settlement will put an end to coal-fired emissions from this facility, and ensures that air quality and the health of residents in communities across the state will be improved.”

Under the settlement, RG&E must permanently shut down the Russell power plant following improvements to power lines and substations, which are expected to be completed in May 2008.  If RG&E builds another plant, the settlement requires that this new plant be a state-of-the-art natural gas burning facility.  RG&E has already indicated its desire to replace the Russell plant and that it will conform to these requirements.  The company has informed the New York Independent System Operator, which manages New York’s electricity transmission grid, that it plans to build a new 300-megawatt electricity generating plant at the site.

The settlement also requires RG&E to pay $500,000 to fund energy efficiency and air pollution reduction projects in the Rochester area, including Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Ontario, and Livingston counties.  Potential projects include the weatherization of low-income housing, the installation photo-voltaic cells on municipal buildings, and the retrofitting of pollution controls on school buses.  RG&E must also pay a civil penalty of $200,000 to New York State.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s office and the DEC found that RG&E had modified the Russell facility and increased air pollution emissions without installing the pollution controls that were required by state and federal clean air laws.  After the DEC cited the Russell facility for violations and after initial settlement discussions with RG&E stalled, the Attorney General’s office notified RG&E of its intention to sue.  The settlement announced today ends the Attorney General’s legal action.

RG&E’s existing Russell plant consists of four coal-fueled power generating units, with a capacity of producing 260-megawatts of electricity.  Each year, the plant emits roughly 20,000 tons of pollutants that turn into smog and soot, which contribute to increased asthma attacks and lung disease.  This pollution also causes acid rain, which has devastated lakes, forests, and wildlife throughout New York’s Adirondack and Catskill regions.  Annually, the facility also emits approximately 60 pounds of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that contaminates fish in New York lakes and rivers, and over 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, a major global warming pollutant.

Natural gas burning facilities have significant environmental advantages over coal-fired plants, emitting a fraction of mercury as well as the pollution that causes smog, soot, and acid rain.  Replacing RG&E’s Russell plant with a natural gas burning facility will cut emissions of global warming pollution by more than one-half million tons annually. 

When Congress passed the New Source Review (“NSR”) provisions of the Clean Air Act in 1970, older power plants like the Russell facility were exempted from having to comply with the stricter air pollution control requirements imposed on newer power plants, unless the older plants underwent modifications that increased their pollution.  This “grandfathering” was based on the assumption that these plants would be retired and replaced by new, cleaner power plants.  Some companies, like RG&E, modified their power plants to extend their life spans while claiming that the modifications were actually routine maintenance and were therefore exempt from the stricter pollution control requirements.

Attorney General Cuomo has been active in addressing sources of air pollution and global warming gas emissions in New York State.  In October 2007, Attorney General Cuomo led a coalition of states and environmental groups to achieve a settlement with American Electric Power (AEP), the nation’s largest power company.  The settlement requires AEP to upgrade its “eastern fleet” of power plants, dramatically cutting its emissions in what was the single greatest reduction of air pollution ever from a Clean Air Act enforcement action.

The case being settled today is New York v. Rochester Gas & Electric, Corp.  The settlement was signed today by Judge Joseph D. Valentino of the New York Supreme Court, Monroe County. 

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Robert Rosenthal and Michael Myers, under the supervision of Special Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection Katherine Kennedy.