Utility Company to Pay $500 Million to Resolve Pollution Violations

Westar Energy has agreed to spend approximately $500 million to significantly reduce air pollution from a Kansas power plant, and pay a $3 million civil penalty, under a settlement to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act, the EPA and Department of Justice announced recently. As part of the settlement, Westar will also spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects.

The agreement, filed in federal court in Kansas, resolves violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements at the company’s Jeffrey Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant near St. Marys, Kan.

“Today’s settlement sets the most stringent limit for sulfur dioxide emissions ever imposed on a coal-fired power plant in a federal settlement,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA is committed to protecting clean air for communities by making sure coal-fired power plants comply with the law.”

“This settlement will lower harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by thousands of tons each year, and will benefit air quality in Kansas and downwind areas,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce violations of the Clean Air Act’s new source review provisions at coal-fired power plants and other sources of excess emissions across the country.”

Under the settlement, Westar will install and operate pollution control equipment at the Jeffrey Energy Center that is expected to reduce combined emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by roughly 78,600 tons per year, which is 85 percent below 2007 emissions. In addition, Westar will surrender surplus sulfur dioxide allowances. These allowances cannot be used again, which means that the emissions will be permanently removed from the environment. Westar will also rebuild and optimize controls to reduce particulate matter emissions.

The settlement also requires Westar to spend $6 million on projects to benefit the environment and mitigate the adverse effects of the alleged violations including:

  • Retrofitting diesel engines on vehicles owned by or operated for public entities in Kansas with emission control equipment.
  • Installing new wind turbines that will result in the reduction of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases, and provide electricity for the benefit of a school or nonprofit.
  • Installing advanced truck stop electrification to reduce harmful emissions from idling trucks.
  • Installing plug-in hybrid infrastructure to facilitate the use of plug-in hybrid vehicles.
  • Converting vehicles in Westar’s fleet to reduce pollution by retrofitting diesel vehicles with emission controls and purchasing hybrid vehicles.

In a complaint filed in February 2009, the government alleged that Westar modified all three units at the Jeffrey Energy Center, its largest coal-fired electric generating station, without installing required pollution control equipment or complying with applicable emission limits, in violation of the Clean Air Act. The government discovered the violations through an information request submitted to Westar.

The settlement is part of the EPA’s enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements. The combined sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission reductions secured from these settlements is more than 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.

Westar Energy, based in Topeka, Kan., generates and distributes electricity to more than 684,000 customers in Kansas. It owns and operates three coal-fired electrical generating stations in Kansas. The settlement applies to all three units at the Jeffrey Energy Center, which comprise 2,160 megawatts, or 73 percent, of Westar’s coal fleet.

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