EPA, Duke Energy Settle Landmark Lawsuit

Sep 10, 2015

The Allen Steam Station in Gaston County.
Credit Duke Energy

Duke Energy has settled a landmark lawsuit over air pollution at coal-burning power plants in North Carolina.

The suit was first filed in 2000 by the U.S. Justice Department, on behalf of the EPA. They alleged that Duke Energy violated the federal Clean Air Act by unlawfully modifying 13 coal-fired electricity generating units located at the Allen, Buck, Cliffside, Dan River, and Riverbend plants, without obtaining air permits and installing and operating the required air pollution control technologies.

Duke Energy claimed the modifications were routine and did not increase emissions.

The case made it to the Supreme Court in 2007 and set a precedent that forced other energy companies across the country to remove millions of tons of air pollutants.

Under terms of the settlement, Duke Energy will spend $4.4 million on environmental mitigation projects, and pay a civil penalty of $975,000.

In a statement, Duke Energy says it “denies the alleged violations, maintains it complied fully with federal law, and is agreeing to settle the case solely to avoid the costs and uncertainties of continued litigation.”

The case was set to go to court in October.

"This settlement brings five more power plants into compliance under EPA’s national initiative to cut pollution from the country’s largest sources,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in a release. “After many years, we’ve secured a strong resolution, one that will help reduce asthma attacks and other serious illnesses for the people of North Carolina."

Duke Energy had already shut down coal-burning units at four of the five plants targeted in the lawsuit. Only units at the Allen Plant, in Gaston County, are still operating. Under the settlement, three of those units will be shut down by 2024.

“Retiring three dirty, outdated coal units at Allen means Charlotte-area residents will breathe easier,” said Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in North Carolina.

A federal judge must approve the settlement.