Duke Energy Settles Clean Air Act Case

The settlement resolves federal claims that the company violated the act by unlawfully modifying units at five coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice announced they have reached a settlement with Duke Energy Corporation to resolve Clean Air Act violations at five coal-fired power plants across North Carolina. The agencies contended Duke violated the 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 or installing and operating the required air pollution control technologies.

Duke recently shut down 11 of the 13 units, and the shutdowns become a permanent, enforceable obligation under the consent decree, according to EPA, while Duke must continuously operate pollution controls at the other two units and meet interim emission limits before permanently retiring them. The settlement also requires Duke to retire another unit at the Allen plant, spend $4.4 million on environmental mitigation projects, and pay a civil penalty of $975,000. The federal agencies are joined in the settlement by co-plaintiffs Environmental Defense, the North Carolina Sierra Club, and Environment North Carolina.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and a federal judge's final approval. EPA estimates it will reduce emissions by approximately 2,300 tons per year from the three Allen units, while eventually there will be zero emissions from all 13 allegedly modified units – which were in excess of 51,000 tons in 2000 when the suit was filed.

"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. "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."

"The settlement announced today marks another milestone in our ongoing efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act and reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants," said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This settlement is a just and fair resolution to this long-running enforcement action in which we alleged that Duke modified these plants in ways that significantly increased their annual emissions. It is good news for the environment and public health in North Carolina."

Although the suit was filed in 2000, trial was set to begin in October 2015 after years of pre-trial litigation, including a landmark 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision agreeing with EPA's interpretation of the Clean Air Act regulations covering modifications that increase the annual amount of pollution from a plant. Under the settlement, Duke must operate existing equipment to control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at two electricity-generating units at the Allen facility in Belmont, N.C., and meet enforceable emission limits, prior to permanently retiring both units in 2024, and then retire an additional unit at the Allen plant by 2024.