In a dramatic reversal from the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice and U.S. EPA are renewing their New Source Review enforcement efforts against coal-fired power plants. The NSR lawsuits originally commenced during the Clinton years have resulted in billions of dollars in new controls and hundreds of millions in civil penalties.
The industry had breathed a sigh of relief when the Bush EPA announced they were not going to pursue additional cases. Now the industry faces the prospect of a new round of very costly litigation, controls and penalties.
Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States. They account for nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions each year and 20 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions. Emissions from coal-fired power plants have detrimental health effects on asthma sufferers, the elderly and children. Additionally, these emissions have been linked to forest degradation, waterway damage, reservoir contamination and deterioration of stone and copper in buildings.
To combat these adverse effects, the EPA and the Justice Department are pursuing a national initiative, targeting electric utilities whose coal-fired power plants violate the law.
The suits reverse the Bush Administration decision to only conclude the Clinton era NSR lawsuits and to not pursue new cases unless the involve violations of the Bush era NSR regulations. In 2006, former EPA enforcement chief Grant Nakayama told Congress he would pursue investigations of coal-fired power plants only if they appeared to fall out of step with the administration’s series of proposed and final changes to the NSR program . On October 13, 2005 Marcus Peabody, Assistant Administrator, issued a memorandum to U.S. EPA’s Office of Enforcement Compliance Assurance directing the office to pursue only cases involving violation of the Bush era NSR rules.
The NSR directive is just one of many Bush evironmental policy and regulatory decisions that the Obama Administration has reversed. Utility representatives said the Obama administration’s efforts to ramp up NSR enforcement came as no surprise.
On February 25th, the Department of Justice has sued Louisiana Generating, alleging that the NRG Energy subsidiary violated New Source Review requirements by operating the Big Cajun 2 Power Plant without also installing and operating modern pollution control equipment after the generating units had undergone major “modifications.”(DOJ Press Release)
This follows a similar lawsuit filed earlier in February against Westar Energy, Inc for failing to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) at one or more of its coal-fired power plants. The complaint alleges that for more than a decade, the Jeffrey Energy Center has operated without the best available emissions-control technology required by the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, contributing to formation of fine particulate matter, smog and acid rain.