Coal Giant Agrees to Largest Environmental Settlement Ever

Energy giant American Electric Power has to pay .6 billion to clean up its act.© Tim Smith/Army Corps of Engineers

In what amounts to the largest environmental settlement in history, U.S. energy giant American Electric Power agreed last week to pay $4.6 billion for installation of long-overdue pollution controls at 16 of its coal-fired power plants across the country. Under the terms of the landmark settlement, the new pollution controls will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by 79 percent and nitrogen oxides by 69 percent at AEP’s dirtiest facilities.

The settlement comes as a result of a lawsuit first filed in 1999 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club alleging that the company violated Clean Air Act rules when it increased smog and soot pollution at coal-fired power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia without installing the pollution controls mandated by federal law. The company, which runs 25 coal-fired electricity plants across the country and is the nation’s number one industrial emitter of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution, also agreed to pay an additional $15 million civil penalty and put $60 million toward projects to mitigate the impacts of past illegal emissions.

Besides NRDC and the Sierra Club, 11 other environmental groups (including the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. PIRG, not to mention several local groups in the Ohio River valley) joined with eight states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Rhode Island) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in using the courts to help persuade AEP to clean up its act.

"Today’s historic settlement not only holds AEP accountable, but also puts big polluters on notice that they can no longer run and hide from their actions or circumvent the Clean Air Act," says NRDC’s John Walke. "The size of the settlement means that we will be able to keep 813,000 tons of harmful pollution out of the atmosphere, improving air quality and public health around these plants and beyond."

Sources: Sierra Club; NRDC