Ohio Edison Signs Billion Dollar Clean Air Settlement

WASHINGTON, DC, March 18, 2005 (ENS) – Ohio Edison will spend over a billion dollars to cut air pollution from a coal-fired power plant by 212,500 tons per year, under an agreement filed today to settle a federal-state lawsuit.

The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plus the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut today announced the settlement of their Clean Air Act case. The lawsuit alleged that Ohio Edison Company violated the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act at the W.H. Sammis Station, a coal-fired power plant in Stratton, Ohio.

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The Sammis plant, located on the Ohio River, has seven units and four smoke stacks, the tallest of which is 1,000 feet high. By comparison, the famous Chrysler Building tiered spire in New York City is 1,048 feet high. (Photo courtesy Maxwell LP)
Under the New Source Review, when power companies increase their generating capacity, providing a new source of power, they must obtain permits based on an environmental review or use the best available control technology to limit their emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The consent decree agreed to by Ohio Edison, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., will reduce emissions of SO2 and NOx from the Sammis plant, as well as from other Ohio Edison and FirstEnergy coal-fired power plants. The pollution controls and other measures required by the agreement are expected to cost about $1.1 billion.

The Sammis Station is one of the largest sources of air pollution in the nation, emitting a total of about 205,000 tons of SO2 and NOx in 2003.

Anthony Alexander, president and chief executive officer of FirstEnergy, chose to frame the agreement in a positive light. “This builds on the significant progress we have been making to protect the environment while resolving uncertainty related to New Source Review,” he said today.

“And, our plans to install additional environmental controls will help us meet Clean Air Act regulations recently announced by the U.S. EPA and enable us to continue utilizing our generating plants to meet our customers’ electricity needs,” Alexander said.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in 1999 to bring operators of coal-fired power plants into compliance with the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act.

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President and CEO of FirstEnergy Anthony Alexander (Photo courtesy University of Akron)
After a four week trial in 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio agreed with the government that there were New Source Review violations at the Sammis plant.

The court had not yet held the second trial needed to determine what pollution controls, penalty and other remedies would be required for these violations. The settlement resolves the remedy phase, averting this litigation.

“Sammis is a dirty power plant that will finally clean up its act," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "This one power plant emits more than 60 percent as much air pollution as all of New York’s 56 power plants combined.

"Adding modern pollution controls to Sammis," said Spitzer, "will save hundreds of lives and eliminate thousands of hospital visits each year and protect the environment of our state and the entire Northeast.”

Sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides cause severe respiratory problems and contribute to childhood asthma. These pollutants are also significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze, which impair visibility in national parks. Emissions from power plants are carried significant distances downwind, causing air quality problems in other states to which the polluted air is carried.

The consent decree will reduce SO2 and NOx emissions from the Sammis Station by a total of 134,500 tons of SO2 and 28,567 tons of NOx per year.

Pollution controls will be installed at all seven of the Sammis steam-generating units, and a plant-wide cap will be imposed on SO2 and NOx emissions.

The two largest units, which account for over half the plant’s pollutant emissions, will receive state-of-the-art pollution controls known as flue gas desulfurization devices (scrubbers), which reduce SO2 emissions by at least 95 percent, and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) devices, which reduce NOx emissions by at least 90 percent.

Pollution controls will be installed between 2005 and 2011. The final plant-wide caps and emission reduction levels will be achieved in 2012.

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Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the air in his state will be cleaner because of this settlement. (Photo courtesy NAAG)
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said it was the action of the states that pressured Ohio Edison to comply with the law. "We compelled Ohio Edison to move from defiance to compliance," he said. "Here’s a powerful signal to similar polluters: The Clean Air Act standards are alive and well, and we will enforce them relentlessly, even as the Bush administration abandons them.”

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey said the settlement "reaffirms the role of state attorneys general in enforcing the Clean Air Act and achieving substantial pollution reductions."

Ohio Edison and FirstEnergy will provide over 49,000 tons per year of additional reductions in SO2 and NOx emissions from three other power plants - the Burger plant in Belmont County, Ohio; the Mansfield plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania; and the Eastlake plant in Eastlake, Ohio.

These additional reductions will be achieved by upgrading existing pollution controls or installing new pollution controls at these plants. These additional reductions will bring the total SO2 and NOx emission reductions under the consent decree to over 212,000 tons per year by 2012.

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Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Sansonetti’s resignation from the Justice Department will be effective April 8, 2005. (Photo courtesy USDOJ)
“This is a great result for the health of all the people who live downwind from this power plant and for the environment of the Northeast,” said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are pleased that Ohio Edison has decided to come into compliance and take on the responsibility for reducing the pollution from their plants.”

“We will achieve major air pollution reductions and improvements in air quality through this consent decree. This result has tremendous significance for our ongoing effort to ensuring cleaner air for all,” said Thomas Skinner, EPA acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

“This settlement creates the new high-water mark for putting resources into the communities affected most directly by a utility company's actions,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Gregory Lockhart. “This forward-looking agreement can serve as the foundation upon which we build new ways to reduce pollution and invest in renewable energy sources to benefit future generations.”

This is the ninth settlement that the federal government has entered into to address Clean Air Act NSR violations by coal-fired power plants. The combined effect of the settlements achieved to date will be to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants by over 940,000 tons each year - through the installation and operation of about $5.5 billion worth of pollution controls.

In terms of both the amount of the pollution reductions and cost, this settlement is the second largest of the power plant NSR settlements to date. The $8.5 million civil penalty imposed is the second largest penalty ever assessed against a power plant.

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One of the Sammis smoke stacks (Photo courtesy Maxwell LP)
Environmental advocates say enforcement of the New Source Review regulations are necessary and the financial proceeds from such cases should be used to file more litigation against power generation companies in violation.

“This is the type of cleanup that would be impossible under the so-called Clear Skies plan, which would repeal New Source Review,” Frank O’Donnell, president of the nonprofit Clean Air Watch said today. “It also underscores why the federal government should be devoting more resources to enforcing the law against big polluters, rather than trying to re-write the law to cut breaks for the polluters.”

Natural Resources Defense Council attorney David McIntosh said, "At every turn, Bush administration political appointees have tried to undermine these law enforcement cases and let corporate polluters off the hook, but public health advocates, thankfully, have been able to block their efforts. Today’s victory, which will clean up more than 200,000 tons of pollution every year, is, in part, the result of that vigilance," McIntosh said.

"The Justice Department’s top environmental official recently complained that he doesn’t have the resources to file any of the additional 22 new source review enforcement cases referred to it by the EPA," said McIntosh. "This settlement, and the one reached with Illinois Power and Dynegy earlier this month, will free up significant resources that the Justice Department should devote to filing new enforcement cases."

Federal officials says that the $25 million amount Ohio Edison will pay for mitigation projects, to compensate for the harmful effects of the company’s past violations, is the largest mitigation project commitment in any of the federal NSR settlements with utilities to date.

Ohio Edison will fund $14.4 million in renewable energy development projects, specifically wind power projects in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or western New York. The wind power generated will displace an equivalent amount of coal-fired power, further reducing emissions from coal-fired plants.

Instead, Ohio Edison may propose to fund new projects to generate electricity from landfill gas in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.

Ohio Edison also will provide a total of $10 million to the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to perform environmentally beneficial projects related to air pollution in those states. The specific projects will be determined by the states after the consent decree is entered.

Allegheny County will receive $400,000 to install a solar power project at one of the county’s municipal buildings.

Ohio Edison also will provide $215,000 to the National Park Service for an environmentally beneficial project related to air pollution in Shenandoah National Park, a Clean Air Act “Class I Area” that has been adversely impacted by emissions from Sammis and other power plants.

The proposed consent decree will be lodged with the United States District Court in Columbus, Ohio for a 30 day public comment period.