Dominion Virginia Power has agreed to cut emissions from eight coal-burning plants by 70 percent to settle federal and state lawsuits alleging the company violated clean air laws, and contributed to air pollution and acid rain in the Northeast.
As part of the agreement, the utility is expected to spend $1.2 billion over the next 14 years to control pollution.
Overall, the utility is to reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxides from about 105,000 tons per year to 30,000 tons. The phase-in will begin in 2004 and is to be completed by 2013. Nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain, smog and water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay.
In addition, the utility will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, a major cause of acid rain, from about 263,000 tons per year to 82,000 tons.
“This is the single greatest air pollution reduction ever achieved from a utility,” said EPA Administrator Carol Browner.
Under the agreement, expected to be finalized under a detailed consent decree within a few weeks, the utility will also perform $13.9 million in environmental mitigation projects and pay a $5.3 million civil fine.
The agreement stems from lawsuits filed last year by New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer and the EPA against power companies in the Midwest and the South. Spitzer’s action marked the first time any state had sued a polluter in a different state for violating the federal Clean Air Act.
The utility’s eight coal-burning plants in Virginia and West Virginia emit about as much nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide as all 30 electric power plants in New York state combined, and officials say they contribute to air pollution problems throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
“This is a critical affirmation of the role that states can play in not only environmental enforcement, but also the broader range of enforcement issues where states have compelling interests that are not always pursued by other levels of government,” Spitzer said. “I hope that this deal will be a template for other settlements.”
New York and the EPA charged that Virginia Power had significantly modified its Mount Storm facility and increased its pollution output without applying for a Clean Air Act permit or taking steps to minimize increased emissions.
It was one of a series of actions launched in November 1999 against electric utilities that the federal government alleged had made major modifications that increased pollution without getting new permits.
The government has reached an agreement with one other utility, Tampa Electric Company. The resolution of six other suits is pending. Government officials hope the Virginia Power agreement will prompt similar settlements with the other power companies across the Midwest and the South.
Along with reducing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, Dominion will cut particulate emissions, or soot, at the eight plants. Soot is a factor in asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Environmentalists praised the deal. “This is huge, and we think it drives other companies to the bargaining table, which would produce massive reductions,” said Peter M. Iwanowicz, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of New York state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report