Utility settles with EPA, agrees to stop burning coal at three sites

AEP agreed to install 200 megawatts of wind and solar energy by 2015 in Michigan and Indiana to partially offset the loss of coal-fired power. It also will add pollution-control technology to a power plant in southern Indiana — though AEP would need to shut parts of the plant down beginning in 2025 if it cannot sufficiently lower sulfur dioxide emissions.

The settlement modifies a 2007 agreement between AEP, EPA and the other parties. EPA originally sued the utility in 1999 for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act, saying AEP failed to obtain permits and skirted reviews that could have pushed it to install technology that reduced air pollution when it upgraded several power plants.

The agreement reflects the ongoing effort to curtail coal use in the name of public health.

President Obama, through the EPA, has used executive action to slash emissions from power plants, citing public health benefits. After proposing emissions standards for new coal-fired plants during his first term, green groups want him to now do the same for existing plants.

States and environmental groups have spearheaded several lawsuits aimed at holding electric utilities and coal producers responsible for pollution and its effects.

As a result of the settlement, Sierra Club cited Clean Air Task Force estimates that ceasing coal burning at the three power plants would avert 203 deaths, 310 heart attacks, 3,160 asthma attacks and 188 emergency room visits per year.

Also as part of the agreement, AEP will more aggressively reduce sulfur dioxide pollution by its eastern fleet through a tighter emissions cap.

"Coal-fired power plants make the largest contribution to air pollution in New York’s skies. Continuing to cut pollution is crucial to protecting New Yorkers’ health and the environment,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose state joined the suit as a plaintiff, said in a statement.

Many lawmakers from Appalachia and the Midwest have tried to beat back White House rules on emissions, saying they are economically burdensome.

Some also disagree with regulating emissions because they say they are unsure of the extent of human impact on climate change, while others don’t believe that climate change is occurring.

— This story was updated at 1:12 p.m.

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