Justice Dept. sues Duke Energy over Clean Air Act violations

The US Department of Justice filed suit against Duke Energy Corp. on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency charging that eight of the electric utility�s power plants illegally released massive amounts of air pollution.

The DOJ alleges that Duke Energy violated the Clean Air Act by making major modifications to all of its coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas without installing the equipment required to control smog, acid rain, and soot.

�We think that EPA unfairly and retroactively reinterpreted rules and redefined non-routine maintenance projects. Projects completed within the industry norm are now being identified as non-routine,� says Joe Maher, spokesman for Duke. �We think this is wrong.�

Maher added that the company has not seen the details of the suit yet and doesn�t expect those to be filed until after the first of the year. The company declined to make further comment.

The suit filed in the waning days of EPA Administrator Carol Browner follows a $1.4 billion settlement with Cinergy Corp. over similar alleged violations at its coal-fired power plants. Cinergy agreed to cut emissions by installing the best technology available on the power plants identified by EPA with violations. Tampa Electric Co., a unit of TECO Energy Inc., settled a similar suit in February 2000 over two power plants.

�We hope that Duke Energy also will agree to reduce their emissions. Until then, we will continue to pursue these cases,� Browner said in a statement.

The suit, filed on Dec. 22 in federal court in Greensboro, NC, seeks to force the utility to install appropriate air pollution control technology and seeks civil penalties. The Clean Air Act authorizes civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation at each plant prior to Jan. 30, 1997 and $27,500 for each day thereafter.

The DOJ alleges that the utility made major modifications to its plants to extend their lives and avoid the cost of building new plants. Under the Clean Air Act, modifications of this kind require installation of the best available control technology. The utilities did not comply with those requirements, according to the DOJ.

Other utility holding companies were sued for the same type of violations in November 1999 including American Electric Power Co., Cinergy Corp., FirstEnergy Corp., Illinois Power Co. owned by Dynegy Inc., Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co., Southern Co., and TECO Energy Inc.

Apart from the settlements with TECO and Cinergy, the other lawsuits are still actively being pursued, DOJ said.

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