EPA landmark Clean Air Act settlement to modernize coal-fired power plants and promote clean energy
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The settlement will require TVA to invest an estimated $3 to $5 billion on new and upgraded state-ofthe- art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits.
TVA will also invest $350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment, according to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The result is that North Carolina prevails in winning cleanup of all of the TVA’s coal-fired plants, which is what Cooper sought in a 2006 lawsuit. The settlement requires pollution reductions in more than the four plants a judge had ordered fixed. Those four – which are the closest to North Carolina – will be among the first to be controlled or shut down, putting North Carolina first in line to benefit from the settlement.
“North Carolina businesses will benefit with lower health care costs and more tourism dollars, and all of us benefit from better health,” Cooper said. “This agreement means our air will be more clear and our waters more clean. The settlement is a remarkable accomplishment and we are pleased that everyone involved could resolve it this way.”
According to a settlement signed Thursday, in addition to the sweeping pollution reduction program, the TVA will pay $11.2 million to North Carolina over the next five years to be used for energy efficiency and electricity demand reduction programs.
The settlement, signed by Cooper, representatives from the TVA, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, among others, will dramatically change the way the TVA’s coal-fired units operate and will result in the closure of many uncontrolled units, especially those close to North Carolina’s border. The TVA will be required to reduce emissions by retiring at least 18 of its 59 coal units and installing and continuously operating emission-control equipment on almost all of the remaining units.
Cooper, on behalf of North Carolina, had filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the TVA in 2006, claiming that the utility’s coalfired plants sent polluted air into North Carolina. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from these plants are linked to increased incidence of premature mortality, asthma, chronic bronchitis and other cardiopulmonary illnesses in North Carolina.
The illnesses disproportionately impact children, resulting in lost school days and sickness. The pollution also degrades water and soil, damages farmers’ crops, and hurts the state’s forests and waterways. They also cause haze and reduce visibility, especially in the North Carolina mountains, a draw for the state’s $12 billion-a-year tourism industry. Controlling these pollutants also dramatically reduces mercury emissions.
“Pollution ignores state boundaries, so we all have to do our part to make sure the air is clean,” Cooper said. “This agreement is a victory for all of North Carolina.”
Cooper asked the courts to force the TVA to reduce emissions of pollutants and install the best available technology to control dirty air created by the plants. North Carolina’s tough 2002 law, the Clean Smokestacks Act, directed the state to aggressively pursue emissions reductions from out-ofstate plants that adversely affected air quality in North Carolina.
The state law required North Carolina’s own largest coal-fired power plants to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. Cooper’s lawsuit asked the same of the TVA. U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg agreed, ruling in 2009 in North Carolina’s favor, though an appellate court later reversed the decision. North Carolina has sought review of that decision in the United States Supreme Court, but agreed to withdraw its petition for review once the settlement is approved by a federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Thornburg’s ruling had required the TVA to meet specific time limits for reductions in pollution at the four TVA plants closest to North Carolina. The agreement does just that and more, requiring the utility to reduce pollution from all of its coal plants quickly and comprehensively.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls and other required actions will address 92 percent of TVA’s coal-fired power plant capacity, reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 69 percent and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 67 percent from TVA’s 2008 emissions levels. The settlement will also significantly reduce particulate matter and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Uncontrolled releases of harmful air pollution like sulfur dioxide from power plants can affect breathing and aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially in sensitive populations like children and the elderly.
Communities near TVA’s facilities will directly benefit from $350 million in environmental projects designed to reduce harmful air pollution and promote energy efficiency. These investments will advance environmental justice by reducing pollution in overburdened communities and reducing energy costs for low-income communities. TVA is required to spend $240 million on energy efficiency initiatives including a Smart Energy Communities project that will focus on energy efficiency in low-income communities. TVA will retrofit low-income housing with the most cost-effective energy efficiency technologies – reducing air pollution, energy use and saving residents money. TVA will also spend $40 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through renewable projects such as hybrid electric charging stations and $8 million for a clean diesel and electric vehicle project for public transportation systems.
Cooper asked the courts to force the TVA to reduce emissions of pollutants and install the best available technology to control dirty air created by the plants. The Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002 directed the state to aggressively pursue emissions reductions from out-of-state plants that adversely affected air quality in North Carolina.
TVA will also provide $1 million to the National Park Service and the National Forest Service to improve, protect, or rehabilitate forest and park lands that have been impacted by emissions from TVA’s plants, including Mammoth Cave National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
TVA is an independent, corporate agency of the United States created as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933, and is headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn. TVA operates 59 coal-fired boilers at 11 plants in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee and operates other energy production facilities, including hydroelectric plants. TVA also provides wholesale power to 155 municipal and cooperative power distributors and direct service to 56 large industrial and government customers, supplying power to approximately nine million people across Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and small portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
The settlement also requires TVA to pay a civil penalty of $10 million, with Alabama and Kentucky receiving $500,000 each and Tennessee receiving $1 million. The states of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and three non-governmental organizations, the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, have been involved in development of this settlement and are signatories to a companion consent decree that will be lodged in federal district court in the Eastern District of Tennessee.
This is the 22nd Clean Air Act New Source Review settlement in the coal-fired power plants sector. Reducing air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including coal-fired power plants, is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013. The initiative continues EPA’s focus on improving compliance with the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act among industries that have the potential to cause significant amounts of air pollution.
More information on this settlement: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/tvacoal-fired.html
More information on EPA's civil enforcement program: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/index.html