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4 states planning to sue Allegheny

May 21, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Four Northeast states have indicated their intent to sue Allegheny Energy over improvements the company made to five coal-fired power plants in West Virginia.

Officials in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut sent a "notice of intent" - a threat to sue - to the company Thursday, alleging that Allegheny Energy violated the federal Clean Air Act.

Because of major modifications that were not approved, "these plants have emitted excess amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which have damaged the environment and contributed to the endangerment of public health in downwind locations," including the four states, the letter says.

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High concentrations of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide create smog and acid rain and they affect breathing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Herald-Mail obtained a copy of the notice of intent from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The notice also alleges violations for modifications at three Allegheny Energy plants in western Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is negotiating separately with Allegheny Energy about plants in Pennsylvania, department spokesman Kurt Knaus said.

But Pennsylvania is one of four states threatening to sue over the West Virginia plants, "emphasizing the importance of regional partnerships in achieving air quality improvements and ensuring fairness," Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said in a prepared statement.

Allegheny Energy - which switched its headquarters from south of Hagerstown to Greensburg, Pa., last month - denied the allegations.

Over the last three years, the company has installed anti-pollution equipment at its plants, meeting a federal deadline of this month, Allegheny Energy spokeswoman Janice Lantz said.

She said Allegheny Energy has decreased its nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide outputs a combined 43 percent since 1980.

In a prepared statement, Paul J. Evanson, the company's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, "We believe that we have been and continue to be in compliance with all existing state and federal environmental laws, including the matters described in the Notice.

"We are always mindful of our responsibilities as an environmental steward in the operation of our power plants. Accordingly, we welcome the opportunity to meet with these states to amicably resolve these matters."

Allegheny Power, an Allegheny Energy subsidiary, provides electricity to 1.7 million customers in five states, including Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Officials representing the four states accused the EPA, under President Bush, of dropping about 50 federal investigations into power plant violations, forcing states to step in.

"Once again, President Bush has failed the people of New Jersey and the Northeast by opting to protect the profits of polluters rather than the health of citizens, and, once again, the states must fill the void left by the federal government," New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Bradley Campbell said in a statement posted on the New York attorney general's Web site.

EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said, however, that the claim of "dropped investigations" makes no sense. "I'm not sure what they are talking about," she said.

She added, though, that the EPA doesn't have "unlimited resources" to investigate violations and is therefore "placing a priority on where we can get the greatest environmental benefits."

Bergman said the most important way to improve air quality is to decrease power plant pollution, which is the aim of the Interstate Air Quality Rule that the EPA proposed in January.

Two of the West Virginia power plants in question are near Morgantown, two are near Parkersburg and one is near Clarksburg.

Some of the modifications date back to the late 1980s, according to the notice of intent.

The states allege that air pollution from Allegheny Energy's plants could have severe effects. "It is well documented that the release of ozone-creating pollutants in West Virginia contributes to the formation of ozone in our states," the notice says.

New York and New Jersey allege in other statements that Allegheny Energy is the "fifth largest emitter of sulfur dioxide and the tenth largest emitter of nitrogen oxide in the nation."

Knaus, of the Pennsylvania DEP, attributed those figures to the EPA, but Bergman questioned the claims and said she couldn't verify them.

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