Duke Energy Reached Emissions Deal

Monday, September 14, 2015 @ 04:09 PM gHale

Duke Energy Corp. reached a settlement to resolve Clean Air Act violations at five coal-fired power plants across North Carolina.

The settlement, reached with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), resolves long-standing claims that Duke violated the federal Clean Air Act by unlawfully modifying 13 coal-fired electricity generating units located at the Allen, Buck, Cliffside, Dan River, and Riverbend plants, without obtaining air permits and installing and operating the required air pollution control technologies.

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Duke shut down 11 of the 13 units, and under the settlement those shutdowns also become a permanent and enforceable obligation under the consent decree.

In addition, at the remaining two units, Duke must continuously operate pollution controls and meet interim emission limits before permanently retiring them. In addition, the settlement requires Duke retire another unit at the Allen plant, spend $4.4 million on environmental mitigation projects, and pay a civil penalty of $975,000. The United States ended up joined in the settlement by co-plaintiffs Environmental Defense, the North Carolina Sierra Club, and Environment North Carolina.

EPA said the settlement will reduce emissions by 2,300 tons per year from the three Allen units, as compared to recent emission levels. With these additional retirements, emissions from all 13 units – which were in excess of 51,000 tons in 2000 when the government filed suit – will be zero.

“This settlement brings five more power plants into compliance under EPA’s national initiative to cut pollution from the country’s largest sources,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “After many years, we’ve secured a strong resolution, one that will help reduce asthma attacks and other serious illnesses for the people of North Carolina.”

“The settlement … marks another milestone in our ongoing efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act and reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement is a just and fair resolution to this long-running enforcement action in which we alleged that Duke modified these plants in ways that significantly increased their annual emissions. It is good news for the environment and public health in North Carolina.”

The United States initially sued Duke in 2000, and trial was set to begin in October 2015 following years of pre-trial litigation, including a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision agreeing with EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act regulations covering modifications that increase the annual amount of pollution from a plant. Under the settlement, Duke must continuously operate existing equipment to control sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at two electricity-generating units at the Allen facility in Belmont, NC, and meet enforceable emission limits, prior to permanently retiring both units in 2024. In addition, to help mitigate the harm from the violations, the settlement also requires Duke to retire an additional unit at the Allen plant by 2024.