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Utility settles with DOJ in Clean Air Act lawsuit

By: Cristina Janda//August 21, 2013//

Utility settles with DOJ in Clean Air Act lawsuit

By: Cristina Janda//August 21, 2013//

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SETTLEMENT: $307.2 million

Case name: U.S. v. Wisconsin Public Service Corp.
Case type: Environmental law
Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
Award amount: $307,200,000
Special damages: Pollution
Disposition date: March 7
Plaintiff’s attorneys: Jason Dunn of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental & Natural Resources Division, Washington, D.C., and Christian R. Larsen of the U.S. Department of Justice (ED-WI), Office of the U.S. Attorney, Milwaukee
Defendant’s attorneys: Linda Benfield and Paul Bargren of Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee
Case number: 1:13-cv-00010-WCG

The Wisconsin Public Service Corp., a utility company, has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Air Act.

According to the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, under the terms of the settlement agreement, the defendant “will invest approximately $300 million in pollution control technology, pay a civil penalty of $1.2 million, and spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act.”

The parties’ consent decree was entered March 7. The case was filed Jan. 4, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and the case was assigned to Chief Judge William Griesbach.

Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said that the “settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of harmful air pollution each year, thus improving air quality in Wisconsin and downwind areas.”

Moreno added that the consent decree, which requires Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to reduce emissions from both of its coal-fired power plants in the state, “demonstrates the Justice Department’s continuing efforts, along with [the Environmental Protection Agency], to bring large sources of air pollution into compliance with the Clean Air Act.”

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, voiced the agency’s support of the settlement.

The “EPA is committed to protecting communities from the pollution problems that matter most, including reducing air pollution from the largest sources of emissions” and the “pollution reductions and the significant investment in local environmental projects under this agreement will ensure that the people of Wisconsin and neighboring states have cleaner, healthier air,” Giles said.

Furthermore, James Santelle, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin said that resolving the claims allows residents of the region to “benefit from the latest technology, resulting in significant future reductions in air pollutants.”

The settlement covers the Wisconsin Public Service Corp.’s two power plants: the Pulliam plant in Green Bay and the Weston plant in Rothschild. It requires the defendant to install new pollution control technology on one of its largest units, continuously operate the new and existing pollution controls, and comply with stringent emission rates and annual tonnage limitations.

Under the terms of the consent decree, the defendant also was required to permanently retire, refuel or repower four more coal-fired units at the Pulliam and Weston plants. The actions to be taken by the defendants are expected to result in annual reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions by approximately 15,000 tons from 2010 levels. The settlement covers all eight coal-fired boilers at the defendant’s two power plants.

The utility company also must spend $6 million on projects that will benefit the environment and human health in communities located near its facilities. Specifically, the defendant agreed to pay $250,000 each to the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service to be used for projects to address damage from the defendant’s alleged excessive air emissions. Up to $4 million will be spent on a renewable energy resource enhancement project, up to $1.2 million on a wood stove change-out project, and up to $300,000 on a community digester project to convert food and/or animal waste to biogas or electricity. The defendant may also pay for a compressed natural gas or hybrid fleet conversion project, or a solar panel installation project.

According to the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, reducing air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including coal-fired plants, is one of the EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011–2013. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, two pollutants emitted from power plants, have many adverse effects on human health and contribute to acid rain, haze and smog. The pollutants also are converted in the air to fine particles of particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular effects and premature death.

The DOJ explained that “[r]educing these harmful air pollutants will benefit the communities located near [the defendant’s] facilities, particularly communities disproportionately impacted by environmental risks and vulnerable populations, including children. Because air pollution from power plants can travel significant distances downwind, this settlement will also reduce air pollution outside the immediate region.”

This is the 25th settlement under the EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements. The DOJ asserted that the total combined sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emission reductions secured by all of the settlements will exceed 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls are installed and implemented.


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