Md., other states sue Pa. company over air pollution

Suit says 3 plants lack filters

power producer says they're not required

June 29, 2005|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Maryland and four other states sued a Pennsylvania power company yesterday for failing to install filters on three coal-fueled power plants that belch deadly pollutants toward downwind states.

"Baltimore, Washington and parts of the Eastern Shore are among the areas that do not have the air quality we should have," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "One way to improve our air quality is to get the people who send their emissions downwind toward us to limit the pollution coming out of coal-fired power plants."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, targets Allegheny Energy Inc., owner of the Armstrong, Hatfield's Ferry and Mitchell power plants in western Pennsylvania.

It charges, among other complaints, that the Armstrong plant has been burning coal since 1958, and Hatfield's Ferry since 1969, without scrubbers or similar filtration equipment required of all new power plants since the 1970 Clean Air Act.

The states argue that a 1977 amendment to the Clean Air Act called "new source review" required older plants to add pollution control systems when they underwent significant renovations. Allegheny paid for upgrades without adding the required technology to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution, the lawsuit states.

The Bush administration weakened the "new source review" requirements in 2002, adopting a more industry-friendly program that allows power plants to continue polluting if they pay fines when they release emissions above a specified limit.

Those changes were challenged by Maryland and other states, but a decision Friday by a federal appeals court upheld the legality of many of the revisions.

Allen Staggers, a spokesman for Allegheny, said the court decision reinforces the company's position that it was following the law as spelled out by the Bush administration's revisions to the "new source review."

The company made improvements to the three power plants, but this was routine maintenance that should not trigger "new source review" requirements to install expensive new filtration systems, Staggers said.

Maryland, New York and other northeastern states sued an Ohio-based power company, American Electric Power, five years ago for sending pollution downwind. That suit is still pending.

The more-recent lawsuit claims that soot pouring from coal-fired power plants causes heart attacks that lead to about 6,400 premature deaths annually in the five states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

This month, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. blocked Curran's efforts to join other states challenging the Bush administration's exemption of power plants from tough mercury-control regulations. Ehrlich did not block the lawsuit against Allegheny, Curran said.

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