Bay cleanup efforts to receive $3 million in lawsuit settlement

STATE DIGEST

October 10, 2007

Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts will receive $3 million from an Ohio-based power company as part of one of the largest settlements ever recorded in a pollution lawsuit, according to state officials.

American Electric Power Services Corp. agreed yesterday to install $4.6 billion in pollution-control equipment on 16 coal-burning power plants and pay $15 million in penalties. The settlement ends a lawsuit brought in 1999 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and later joined by Maryland and seven other states, as well as 13 environmental groups.

"This settlement will remove 813,000 tons of air pollution a year that drifts into Maryland and into the Chesapeake Bay," said Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. "So this will have a direct effect on our air quality and an indirect effect on the Chesapeake Bay as well."

Under the terms of the consent decree, $3 million will go to Chesapeake Bay pollution-control programs, such as the planting of forested buffer strips between farmlands and streams.

American Electric Power, one of the largest electricity-generating companies in the U.S., also will have to install scrubbers and other pollution-control devices to reduce air pollution from older coal-burning plants that it owns in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. Nitrogen oxide emissions from these plants must be reduced by 69 percent from 2006 levels, according to the agreement.

The violations involved the federal Clean Air Act's so-called "New Source Review" rules, which require power companies to install modern filtration systems whenever they expand the capacity of their plants. The Bush administration has proposed weakening these rules, but this lawsuit was filed in 1999, before the revisions.

Michael G. Morris, American Electric Power's chairman, said in a news release: "Since November 1999, when the initial complaint was filed by the government, we have remained firm in our belief that we operated our plants in compliance with the New Source Review provisions. That remains our position today. But we have also said that we would be willing to consider ways to reasonably resolve these issues."

Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA enforcement official who helped file the lawsuit in 1999 and is now an environmental activist, said that about two-thirds of Maryland's air pollution drifts in from out of state, with much of it from the Ohio area.

"This is a big deal," he said of the settlement. "This is a kind of a `Thank God, it's over' moment, because the company has been fighting this for eight years."

Tom Pelton

Maryland

: Stevensville

Broadband project celebrated

Gov. Martin O'Malley and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin joined other state and local officials yesterday in celebrating the completion of the first phase of a project that is to extend broadband network capability to the Eastern Shore.

The initial phase, completed in June, links NASA's Wallops Island Space Facility with Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County. Also in June, O'Malley announced that the state would advance $2 million from the fiscal year 2009 budget of the Department of Business and Economic Development for the second phase, from Salisbury to the Bay Bridge.

"This required federal, state and local cooperation to get done," Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, said at the event in Stevensville.

The Rural Broadband Initiative, which is funded through federal and state dollars, will bring fiber-optic line access to the nine counties on the Eastern Shore and three counties in Southern Maryland.

James Drew

Frederick County

: Immigration

Service-refusal proposal rejected

Frederick County commissioners voted 3-2 yesterday to reject a proposal to refuse public services such as education to illegal immigrants, capping two months of divisive debate over immigration in the county.

Commissioners did unanimously call on Congress to better enforce current immigration laws and create more comprehensive solutions for this issue, and asked the state legislature to request a national constitutional convention on illegal immigration.

"We need to move forward in a more productive manner," commission President Jan Gardner said after the meeting. "At the end of the day, we're taking action that seeks to have the federal government address national immigration policy."

But Commissioner Charles Jenkins, who in August first proposed cutting off services to illegal immigrants, called yesterday's resolutions "meaningless" and said the commission missed an opportunity to provoke state and federal leaders to action.

"I really wanted to ratchet up the noise" on immigration, said Jenkins, who added he was not surprised by yesterday's vote.

"I don't think Annapolis is really cognizant" of how illegal immigration "affects local budgets," he said.

The Frederick debate followed passage this summer of legislation similar to Jenkins' in Prince William and Loudoun counties in Virginia. It comes as Frederick County experienced a 250 percent increase in foreign-born residents between 2000 and last year, according to the Census Bureau.

Gardner said Jenkins' proposal would have violated federal law. She said the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that illegal immigrants cannot be denied a public education.

Capital News Service

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