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Schneiderman obtains further air pollution cuts and environmental funding for state from nation's largest power company

by jmaloni

Press release

Mon, Feb 25th 2013 04:45 pm

Agreement requires American Electric Power to make deeper, quicker cuts in emissions of pollution; provides additional funds for anti-pollution efforts

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Monday that New York has joined seven states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several environmental groups in reaching an agreement that will require the nation's largest power company to make further cuts in air pollution emissions at 16 of the company's coal-fired power plants. The agreement with American Electric Power, which updates a previous settlement, requires AEP to pursue greater reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, accelerates the timeline for achieving those reductions, and increases the funding AEP will pay New York by an additional $715,000 to fund projects that improve environmental and public health in the state. 

"Coal-fired power plants make the largest contribution to air pollution in New York's skies," Schneiderman said. "Continuing to cut pollution is crucial to protecting New Yorkers' health and the environment. Updating our settlement with the nation's largest power company will allow us to gain quicker and deeper cuts in their air pollution emissions, while providing more than $700,000 in additional funding to combat pollution in our state. I will continue to use the full force of this office to fight for clean and healthy air for all New Yorkers."

The new agreement amends a settlement the coalition of states, EPA and the environmental groups reached with AEP in 2007 as a result of the company's violations of pollution control provisions of the federal Clean Air Act. That settlement required the company to invest nearly $5 billion to upgrade its aging, coal-fired eastern fleet plants and cut its sulfur dioxide (SO2) air pollution from 828,000 tons to 174,000 tons a year over 12 years. In addition, the company was required to pay the eight states involved a total of $24 million, with New York receiving $9.5 million.

Last year, AEP initiated discussions about amending the settlement so the company could deploy pollution reduction technology at its Rockport, Ind., plant that was not explicitly provided for under that settlement. While AEP's requested technology will result in less SO2 reduction at that plant, the eight-state coalition, EPA and environmental groups ultimately agreed to AEP's request in exchange for a package of benefits which, overall, will achieve greater and quicker pollution cuts than the original settlement and provide additional funding for state environmental improvement projects. This agreement is contained in Monday's amended settlement.

The 16 power plants in AEP's eastern fleet are located in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, and emissions from these plants add significantly to smog and soot pollution in New York state. The pollutants emitted, particularly SO2 pollution, threaten human health and are directly linked to increases in asthma attacks and lung diseases. They also are primary contributors to acid rain, which has severely damaged lakes, forests and wildlife throughout New York's Adirondack and Catskill regions.

The amended settlement directly addresses the pollution released by these AEP power plants and provides a package of clean air benefits to New York that includes:

•Lowering the "cap" placed by the prior settlement on total amount of SO2 pollution that can be emitted by the power plants in AEP's eastern fleet. Under the new settlement, AEP agreed to deeper and quicker emission reductions than under the original decree. For example, the company will cut SO2 pollution by 115,000 tons per year more in 2016. The cap will be tightened on a yearly basis to achieve almost 1 million tons of additional reductions in SO2 by 2029 - and resulting in a roughly 90 percent reduction in the fleet's yearly SO2 emissions compared to 2006 levels. These reductions lower the power plants' pollution emission levels far below federal requirements;

•Requiring AEP to pay New York an additional $714,285 to fund projects that increase energy efficiency or reduces pollution in the state.

To date, the attorney general's office has dedicated monies obtained from the prior settlement to the following environmental improvement projects: 

•$2.1 million to fund energy efficiency and catalyze health and safety improvements in residential housing in Buffalo's underserved communities through the creation of the Buffalo Green and Healthy Homes Initiative;

•$1.9 million to fund a program implemented by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to convert residential oil-burning furnaces to natural gas, thus promoting energy efficiency and reducing air pollution; 

•$500,000 to fund school bus air pollution control retrofits in several New York counties bordering Connecticut; 

•$500,000 to assist in the creation of a clean energy education and training center in Saratoga County;

•$500,000 to fund farm projects that reduce agricultural water pollution runoff into Lake Champlain. 

In addition to New York, the states involved in the settlement agreements are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The environmental groups include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.

The amended settlement was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern District. Under the Clean Air Act, the amended consent decree is subject to a 30-day period for public comment after notice is published in the Federal Register. At the conclusion of the comment period, the parties intend to seek court approval of the amended consent decree.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Myers of the attorney general's environmental protection bureau under the supervision of bureau Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek, Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and First Deputy of Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel.

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