U.S. Settles Record Environmental Suit against Power Firm

American Electric Power has agreed to cut 813,000 tons of air pollutants annually at an estimated cost of more than $4.6 billion, pay a $15 million penalty, and spend $60 million on projects to mitigate the adverse effects of its past excess emissions. The Columbus, Ohio-based company is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states. The record settlement was announced Oct. 9 by the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, which said it was the single largest environmental enforcement settlement in history by several measures, including the amount of emission reduction it will result in from stationary sources such as power plants and factories.

“Today’s settlement will save $32 billion in health costs per year for Americans,” said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance program. “Less air pollution from power plants means fewer cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

Ronald J. Tenpas, acting assistant attorney aeneral for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources division, said "The AEP settlement will have an unprecedented impact on air quality in the eastern United States,” calling the settlement "a major victory for the environment and public health" that "demonstrates our continued commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”

An unprecedented coalition of eight states and 13 citizen groups joined the U.S. government in the settlement. The agreement imposes caps on emissions of pollutants from 16 plants located in five states.

AEP will install pollution control equipment to reduce and cap sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 813,000 tons per year when fully implemented. By installing these pollution control measures, the plants will emit 79 percent less sulfur dioxide and 69 percent less nitrogen oxides, as compared to 2006 emissions.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed against the company in 1999, alleging the company violated the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act. AEP will spend an additional $60 million to finance and conduct projects to mitigate the impact of past emissions. Of the total, $24 million for these projects will be allocated among the states that joined the settlement. The remaining $36 million will be spent on mitigation projects identified in the settlement agreement.

A copy of the consent decree is available on the EPA Web site at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/decrees/civil/caa/americanelectricpower-cd.pdf.

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