Feds, Illinois Sue Midwest Generation to Stop Air Pollution

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 27, 2009 (ENS) – The federal government and the State of Illinois today filed a civil lawsuit against Midwest Generation LLC, a unit of Edison International, alleging that the company violated, and continues to violate, the Clean Air Act.

The complaint alleges that Midwest Generation made major modifications to increase the power output from its coal-fired power plants in Illinois without also installing and operating required modern pollution control equipment.

As a result, Midwest Generation’s six Illinois power plants, which have a combined capacity of more than 6,000 megawatts, are illegally emitting massive amounts of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.

Midwest Generation’s coal-fired Fisk Generating Station (Photo courtesy Climate Justice Chicago)

The complaint also alleges that emissions from Midwest Generation violated opacity and particulate matter limits.

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Illinois Attorney General’s Office, asks the court to order Midwest Generation to install and operate state-of-the-art air pollution control technology to substantially reduce emissions from the Midwest Generation power plants.

“I am very concerned about the negative health effects that these aging plants have on the people who live in the communities where the Midwest Gen facilities are located,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “All Midwest Generation power plants must comply with the Clear Air Act and the Illinois Environmental Protection Act to safeguard public health and the environment.”

Headquartered in Chicago, Midwest Generation sells wholesale electricity to markets in the Midwest. The independent power producer owns coal-burning power plants in Chicago, Waukegan, Joliet, Romeoville and Pekin, Illinois.

The United States and the state of Illinois also seek civil penalties up to the maximum amount authorized by law, as well as actions by Midwest Generation to mitigate the adverse public health and environmental effects caused by the violations.

“The excess illegal emissions resulting from the violations alleged in the complaint are sufficient to cause serious harm to human health and the environment,” said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

He said today’s federal court filing is the first step in this litigation and it demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring compliance with environmental laws in the energy sector.

“EPA’s first priority is to protect the health of the people who live near these six plants and are most exposed to their pollution,” said EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Bharat Mathur. “Today’s filing is a significant step toward improving the air quality not only of the communities in the shadow of these plants but for those downwind of their emissions as well.”

Midwest Generation spokesman Douglas McFarlan said the company reached a major agreement with the State of Illinois in 2006 that required it to operate under some of the strictest coal-plant regulations in the country. Some of the power-plant modifications mentioned in the case were installed before Midwest Generation bought the facilities in 1999.

“We have a progressive record of environmental performance and leadership that we will be prepared to vigorously present and defend,” McFarlan said.

On July 28, a coalition of five Illinois health and environmental groups handed Midwest Generation a 60 day notice of their intent to sue the company because its coal plants release illegally high amounts of particulate matter that leads to respiratory illnesses and premature deaths in nearby communities. All the six plants are located in working class and minority neighborhoods.

“For years, Midwest Generation has resisted installing pollution controls and violated federal laws in order to run these old, dirty plants as cheaply as possible,” said Faith Bugel, senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a coalition member. “People living near these plants have to breathe polluted air because Midwest Generation wants to cut costs.”

Now, in view of the federal litigation filed today, the coalition could either seek to intervene and participate in the federal case or could file its own lawsuit and have it consolidated with the federal action, says attorney James Gignac, Midwest director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

“We’re glad that the EPA stepped up to the plate, but we’re looking at our options on how to remain involved with this action,” said Gignac. “We want to be sure Medwest Gen remains accountable and cleans up its act.”

“Even today, these ancient coal power plants continue to belch smoky black clouds in the heart of a major metropolis, putting millions of children, parents and grandparents at risk,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of coalition member Environmental Health Programs for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “If these coal plants can’t even comply with clean air laws from the 1970s they should be shut down and not allowed to operate until effective pollution controls are installed. No corporation should be above the law.”

The threatened legal action is part of a campaign by Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Sierra Club to eliminate air pollution in the region.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.