COAL:

Clean Air Act settlement will close Ohio power plant

American Municipal Power, a nonprofit Ohio utility, has agreed to retire a coal-fired power plant as part of a settlement resolving alleged violations of federal clean air laws, the Obama administration announced yesterday.

AMP agreed to permanently retire its Richard H. Gorsuch Station in eastern Ohio and spend more than $15 million to settle the lawsuit, according to a consent decree reached with U.S. EPA and the Justice Department.

EPA and the Justice Department issued a notice of violation in 2009, alleging that AMP made modifications at the Gorsuch station without obtaining the proper permits and installing pollution controls as mandated under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) requirements.

NSR requires power plants to install modern emission controls for major upgrades that result in significant increases in air pollution. The law is aimed at ensuring that utilities do not artificially extend the lives of older, heavily polluting power plants by making significant upgrades to the facilities.

Under the settlement, AMP agreed to permanently retire the Gorsuch station by Dec. 31, 2012, and to meet interim sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission limits until then. The utility will also spend $15 million on energy efficiency projects to mitigate the effects of the alleged violations and will pay a civil penalty of $850,000.

AMP decided that shutting down the plant and providing for replacement energy was its preferred option for bringing the plant into compliance, according to EPA. According to the proposed settlement, AMP denies the violations alleged in the complaint and maintains that it remains in compliance with federal clean air laws.

An AMP spokesman declined to comment on the settlement.

The retirement of the Gorsuch station will slash annual emissions of SO2 by about 30,000 tons per year, NOx emissions by about 3,000 tons per year and particulate matter emissions by about 600 tons per year, EPA said.

The Gorsuch station -- originally constructed in the 1950s -- contains four 53-megawatt units and has a SO2 emission rate in the highest 3 percent of coal-fired utility sources in the country, according to EPA.

"These pollutants can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze," said EPA enforcement chief Cynthia Giles in a statement. "Coal-fired power plants of all sizes are large sources of air emissions, and EPA is committed to making sure that they all comply with the law."

The plant's closure will also cut carbon dioxide emissions from the station by about 1.7 million tons annually, EPA said.

The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval.

According to EPA, the settlement with AMP marks the 19th judicial settlement reached in a series of cases that seek to bring utilities into compliance with the Clean Air Act's New Source Review requirements.

Click here to read the consent decree.

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