New York Coal Plants Agree to Deep Emissions Cuts

ALBANY, New York, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - Emissions from six upstate New York coal fired power plants, including the state's two largest polluting power plants, will be slashed under two agreements reached Tuesday to settle lawsuits brought against the power companies by the state of New York.

Announcing the settlements, New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, Tuesday said that in total they represent the largest reduction in air pollution levels ever attained through settlement in New York.


New York Governor George Pataki (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
“These historic agreements will dramatically enhance air quality in New York, improve public health and help preserve the state's greatest natural treasure, the Adirondack Park,” Pataki said.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions will be cut by more than 18,000 tons annually – the equivalent of removing 2.5 million cars from New York’s roads. NOx is a component of smog, and also contributes to acid rain, reduced visibility, and the deterioration of coastal estuaries, harming fish and degrading water quality.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions will decrease by more than 123,000 tons a year - the equivalent of removing every diesel truck and bus operating in the United States. SO2 emissions harm ecosystems through acid rain, fog, snow, mist, and dry deposition. After emission as gases, both SO2 and NOX can form particulates in the atmosphere that cause respiratory illnesses.


New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (Photo courtesy Spaceship Discovery)
Spitzer, who is suing out-of-state power plants for polluting New York air, said, “These settlements have enormous benefits for New York and also demonstrate that there is no double standard when it comes to our continuing efforts to protect the environment and public health. Just as we expect out-of-state plants to adhere to the law, we are holding New York's in-state power plants accountable as well.”

Environmental and public health organizations are delighted with the settlement agreements. Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, the Park’s largest environmental organization said, “When the state’s two most powerful public officials, from opposing parties, team up to make such dramatic progress on acid rain, we can only stand in awe and say thank you."

"This agreement is a testament to the importance of the Adirondack Park and to the dire need to stop the acid rain that is killing it," said Houseal. "The deep emissions reductions resulting from this agreement will have a long term beneficial impact on the survival rate of the Adirondack Park’s lakes, forests and wildlife. And it will make the simple act of breathing much easier for millions of New Yorkers."

Stanton H. Hudson, Jr., CEO of the American Lung Association of New York State, called the agreements "important legal as well as public health achievements."

John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the settlements "will lead to huge cuts in urban smog, soot and acid rain pollution, allowing New Yorkers to breathe easier and enjoy a cleaner environment."

In the original 2002 lawsuit against NRG Energy Inc. (NRG) and Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. (NiMo), a National Grid company, the state charged that NiMo had made major modifications at its Huntley and Dunkirk plants while failing to install the necessary state of the art pollution controls as required by the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The lawsuit also charged that NRG, which bought the plants in 1999, violated the law by continuing to operate the plants without proper pollution controls.

power plant

Niagara Mohawk's Dunkirk steam station, located on a peninsula of Lake Erie, produces 600,000 kilowatts of power. (Photo by David Parsons courtesy NREL)
Under a settlement of the NRG lawsuit, the company will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 87 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 81 percent at its Huntley and Dunkirk power plants in western New York.

NRG will reduce emissions through a combination of installing new pollution controls, switching to cleaner burning low sulfur coal, and retiring the four oldest and least efficient units of the Huntley coal plant.

David Crane, NRG president and chief executive officer, said, “This milestone agreement signifies NRG's commitment to the state of New York and the environment - it delivers many benefits to the state and its residents, including a faster reduction in emissions than might have otherwise occurred with federal or state legislation."

The agreement also requires the previous owner of the plants, Niagara Mohawk, to pay a $3 million penalty and provide an additional $3 million to support several environmental benefit projects in western New York, including weatherizing low income housing and adding pollution controls to school buses.

Niagara Mohawk also has agreed to convey 2,500 acres of environmentally sensitive land along the Salmon River to the state. The Oswego County parcel is valued at more than $2.5 million.

“The settlement provides us with the regulatory certainty that we need to ensure these plants continue to meet consumer demand for electricity, in an environmentally sound manner, into the next decade,” Crane said.

In May 2000, the state identified similar violations by the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG).

The state has reached an agreement with NYSEG and AES, the current owner of the plants, to reduce emissions at four former NYSEG coal burning power plants in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions of the state.

Under the terms of the agreement, AES will reduce emissions of NOx at the four plants by at least 70 percent and SO2 by at least 90 percent. AES agreed to the settlement without being sued by the state.

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AES' Greenidge Power Plant in Torrey, New York (Photo courtesy DOE)
AES will install innovative clean coal technology at its Greenidge Power Plant in the Town of Torrey as a demonstration project approved and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

AES will also either shut down or install new pollution controls at its Hickling facility in Corning, the Westover plant in Johnson City and the Jennison facility in Bainbridge. AES already is utilizing state-of-the-art pollution control equipment at other major facilities in the towns of Barker and Lansing.

In addition, a $700,000 penalty has been assessed against NYSEG, and AES will provide $1 million toward energy efficiency, renewable energy or clean air projects.

AES Vice-President Responsible For North America East Generation Dan Rothaupt said, “This agreement continues AES' leadership role among its peers in the installation of equipment that improves air quality for the people and environment in New York State."

"AES is proud to have been the first company in New York State voluntarily to install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment - Selective Catalytic Control - at a large fossil fuel electric generating plant in New York State in 1999 immediately after we purchased our New York fleet of plants," Rothaupt said.

Under the Clean Air Act, older power plants like those now operated by NRG and AES were exempted from having to comply with the stricter air pollution standards under the New Source Review rules unless they installed major modifications that increased their pollution.

This exemption was based on the assumption that these plants would be retired and replaced by new cleaner power plants. But some companies, as alleged in these cases, modified their power plants to extend their life span while claiming that the modifications were routine maintenance and therefore exempt from the stricter pollution control requirements.

These settlements build on a national clean air campaign begun by Spitzer in September 1999. Citing Clean Air Act violations, Spitzer sued eight utilities that operate 17 Midwest power plants. One of those companies, VEPCO, settled in 2003, agreeing to significant reductions in emissions. Cases against companies in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana, are pending.

The Attorney General's office, working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), previously settled clean air cases with Orange and Rockland Utilities and Mirant, the past and current operators of another in-state plant, in June 2003.

DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty said, “These settlements will have longlasting benefits for both public health and the environment for generations to come."

During the Pataki administration, New York has implemented the toughest acid rain emission regulations for power plants in the country and has exceeded the requirements of the Clean Air Act by adopting the most stringent standards for new automobiles, and requiring strict emission controls on stationary sources, such as factories and utilities.

Both settlements are on the attorney general's website at: