Kentucky Utilities Must Spend $140M on Clean Air Settlement

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, February 3, 2009 (ENS) – Back in 1997, Kentucky Utilities modified the largest coal-fired electrical generating unit at its E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County, Kentucky without installing required pollution control equipment or complying with applicable emission limits.

These alleged violations of the Clean Air Act allowed the company to increase the amount of coal the unit burned and increase the amount and rate of emissions for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.

Today, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed a $1.4 million civil penalty on Kentucky Utilities, KU, for these alleged violations and in addition have required the company to spend $135 million on pollution controls.

E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County, Kentucky (Photo by David Hecker)

KU will install new pollution control equipment on generating unit that will reduce combined emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by more than 31,000 tons per year – 90 percent below the 2007 emission levels. These chemicals are components of acid rain and smog.

“Today’s settlement sets the most stringent limit for nitrogen oxide emissions ever imposed in a federal settlement with a coal-fired power plant,” said Catherine McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Pollutants from these facilities can cause severe respiratory problems, contribute to childhood asthma, and contribute to smog and haze,” said McCabe.

KU also must install controls to reduce particulate matter emissions by about 1,000 tons per year. Increased levels of fine particles in the air are linked to health hazards such as heart disease, impaired lung function and lung cancer.

The company has agreed to surrender the excess nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide allowances it will have after installing the pollution controls. Coal-fired power plants are allowed to emit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides as allowances, which are granted under federal or state acid rain permits. Once surrendered, these allowances cannot be used again, so the surrender will remove these emissions permanetnly from the environment.

The settlement is part of the EPA’s enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements. The act prohibits the generation of power from new sources without use of the best available technology to reduce air pollution.

The total combined sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission reductions secured from this settlement will exceed more than 1.8 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented, said the federal officials

“This settlement will result in the substantial reduction of harmful emissions, and will benefit air quality in Kentucky and downwind areas,” said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

In addition, the company will spend about $3 million on projects to benefit the environment and compensate for the adverse effects of the air pollution for a total settlement of nearly $140 million.

KU will contribute $1.8 million of the $3 million to a pilot project on the effectiveness of storing compressed carbon dioxide gas, a by-product of coal combustion, in deep injection wells.

The company will spend $1 million to retrofit school buses with filters or other controls to reduce emissions of particulate matter; and also pay $200,000 to the National Park Service to help restore Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

Kentucky Utilities, based in Lexington, Kentucky, generates and distributes electricity to more than 500,000 customers in Kentucky and Virginia. It owns and operates five coal-fired electrical generating stations in Kentucky.

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