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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

AEP Settlement Will Mean Cleaner Air for Pennsylvanians

Natural Gas Likely Made New Settlement Possible

American Electric Power (AEP), one of the nation's largest power companies, announced that it will stop burning coal at three power plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015 as a result of settling a Clean Air Act lawsuit with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), eight states and 13 citizens groups. AEP also agreed to replace a portion of these coal plants with new wind and solar investments in Indiana and Michigan, bringing more clean energy online to meet the region's electricity needs.

The suit, originally begun in 1999, alleged that AEP's coal-fired power plants were dumping pollutants throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states in violation of the Clean Air Act. The parties' original settlement in 2007 required AEP to install $4.6 billion in pollution controls and invest $60 million in pollution reduction projects. But AEP sought to reopen the settlement in order to install cheaper pollution control technology that would save it $1 billion but not eliminate as much pollution at one of its largest plants. The modified settlement will allow use of the cheaper technology, but lower total sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution emitted by AEP's power plants far below levels required by federal law. To achieve that limit, AEP will stop burning coal at three power plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015.

Coal-fired power plants are the nation's largest source of mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution, carbon pollution and many other deadly pollutants that can trigger heart attacks and contribute to respiratory problems.

That Pennsylvania did not participate in the lawsuit is a testament to the immense political power wielded by the coal industry in our state's capitol, as the governor that declined to be part of the suit was Tom Ridge, a well-liked governor that had just been re-elected by a wide margin.

Pennsylvania will, nonetheless, play an important role in the settlement because AEP could not retire 2011 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired power in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky without the natural gas being developed here in Pennsylvania.

For Pennsylvanians to fully benefit, the environmental improvements resulting from reduced coal-fired power cannot be offset by increased costs associated with shale gas development. For that reason, shale gas must be developed in an environmentally sound manner.

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