March 22, 2002 — Several major electricity generating companies are waiting for a verdict from a court case involving the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) before they decide whether to settle air pollution cases with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
TVA is challenging tighter emissions rules from the EPA in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping to find out at what point a plant upgrade should trigger a retrofit of pollution controls. A decision is expected sometime in April, EPA administrator Christie Whitman said.
In the original Clean Air case, the EPA said the TVA violated the Clean Air Act by upgrading seven of its 11 coal-fired plants in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky without installing new pollution control equipment.
TVA, which said it has spent more than $600 million on emission reductions, claimed in court that meeting EPA’s order would require spending billions of dollars more and force it to charge consumers more for power.
The federal government had sued TVA and eight other companies that operate 51 older power plants under the new source review program.
In comments before a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Whitman said the case would influence how settlements would be carried out with other utilities, touching off a firestorm from environmental groups who claim the EPA is backing off their clean air enforcement rules, the Associated Press reported.
If TVA wins the appeal, generators may see the decision as a weakening of the pollution rules and not feel pressure to settle their cases.
The EPA submitted a plan on March 18 in documents submitted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget which proposes letting utilities make voluntary cuts in air emissions.
Environmentalists say the plan, which is a reversal of the Clinton Administration’s stance, is a shift away from aggressive prosecution of utilities that fail to install new pollution control equipment.