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[GreenYes] Ohio Power Plants and Clean Air Act enforcement

Published Thursday, March 29, 2001, in the Akron Beacon Journal

Two senators work to negate Clean Air Act enforcement
Request would free Ohio utilities from lawsuits over acid rain pollution

and Bob Downing 

Beacon Journal staff writers

Two U.S. senators are asking President Bush's administration to derail a 
Clean Air Act enforcement campaign begun in the Clinton administration, 
including a series of 1999 and 2000 Justice Department lawsuits against 
Ohio's coal-fired power plants.

The request, if granted, could save billions of dollars for the two Ohio 
utilities still in litigation with the federal government: Akron's 
FirstEnergy Corp. and the Columbus-based American Electric Power.

And it could allow Ohio's utilities, the dirtiest in the nation, to
putting out large amounts of the pollutants that cause acid rain and

How the request from Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and James Inhofe, R-Okla.,

will fare remains to be seen.

``I'm sure some industry lobbyists have some very high hopes right now,''

said Patricio DaSilva, Midwest activities coordinator for the Natural 
Resources Defense Council.

The request comes less than two weeks after the Bush administration
on a promise to limit carbon dioxide emissions, widely seen as a victory
the coal-fired power industry.

It also comes as the new Republican administration begins reviewing a
host of 
environmental rules enacted under its Democratic predecessors.

Coal and coal-fired utility interests contributed heavily to the Bush 
campaign and the Republican Party during the last election season.

As Bush did two weeks earlier, Inhofe and Breaux cited the California
crisis as a reason for retreating from recent environmental enforcement 

In their letter, they said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 
enforcement program was unreasonable and unpredictable, too harsh on 
coal-fired power plants and oil refineries and a danger to the nation's 
energy supply.

The two senators, both from oil-producing states, made their plea in a
letter to Vice President Richard Cheney, who is chairing a committee
with developing an energy policy for the administration. 

They asked that the administration suspend EPA enforcement against
accused of violating ``new source'' provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Three Ohio utilities -- FirstEnergy Corp., AEP and Cinergy Corp. -- were 
among seven utilities sued under those provisions in late 1999 and early 
2000. The government also took legal action against the Tennessee Valley 
Authority, a federal agency that cannot be sued.

The U.S. Justice Department accused the power companies of illegally 
stretching the lives of old plants in order to avoid building new plants
better pollution controls.

The Inhofe-Breaux request drew cheers from utility lobbyists and
from environmental groups.

Relief from what the industry calls unfair EPA action is the top priority
electric utilities and is crucial to their ability to continue generating

power, said Dan Riedinger of the Edison Electric Institute, a powerful
group based in Washington.

To environmentalists, it's worrisome that the two senators made their
directly to Cheney, instead of U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

``It's a very big concern when two senators say, `Let's stop enforcing
Clean Air Act,' '' said Frank O'Donnell of the Clean Air Trust, a
environmental group.

``It's mistaken at best and disingenuous at worst,'' said Kurt Walzer of
Ohio Environmental Council in Columbus.

Walzer said the California energy crisis bears no relation to cleanup
at Midwest power plants.

He also said he doubted Bush would support the two senators. ``It would
be a 
huge, huge turnaround,'' he said.

The Clean Air Act enforcement effort now under attack began in the last
of the 1990s.

Beginning with the pulp paper industry, and then spreading to coal-fired 
power and oil refineries, the EPA began citing companies for failing to 
obtain ``new source'' permits when building new plants or making
modifications to old ones.

As with other facilities, older coal-fired power plants were exempted
the Clean Air Act requirement that they have state-of-the art pollution 
controls. The old plants were expected to be retired and replaced by new
cleaner ones.

Utilities were allowed to maintain those plants, but not improve them 

The power industry's argument is that it was only doing routine
that the EPA changed its definition of maintenance and that the
work was done with the full knowledge of the EPA.

The Justice Department is alleging that the power companies rebuilt their
plants piece by piece, in violation of the Clean Air Act, and
the work to take advantage of the law's maintenance loophole.

Three utilities, including Cincinnati-based Cinergy, have signed consent 
orders to settle with the federal government.

In the settlement, Cinergy agreed to spend $1.4 billion to reduce
of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and nitrogen oxide, which
smog and acid rain.

A Florida utility agreed to spend $1 billion at two coal-fired plants. A 
Virginia utility not sued by the federal government signed an agreement
spend $1.2 billion to comply.

Meanwhile, the federal litigation continues.

``Some of these (cases) have been settled,'' said Richard Biondi,
director for enforcement for the EPA. ``We're in discussions with others,
trying to reach settlements. We're proceeding.''

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