Attorney General Janet Reno and Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) Administrator Carol M. Browner have urged Capitol Hilllawmakers not to approve legislative language that would exemptcoal-fired utilities from legal action for their alleged violationsof the Clean Air Act (CAA).

The utilities have lobbied Congress to attach a rider to anInterior Department appropriations bill that would excuse them fromthe series of clean-air lawsuits brought by the Justice Departmenton behalf of the EPA earlier this month.

“The rider would effectively immunize these [utility] companiesfrom continuing responsibility for their unlawful conduct andauthorize additional violations in the future. We strongly urgethat no such riders be adopted,” Reno and Brown said in a Nov. 15letter to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), the House ranking minoritymember. The rider, if approved, “would constitute unprecedented andcompletely unwarranted interference with enforcement actions nowpending in federal courts.”

On Nov. 3, Justice brought lawsuits against seven utilities— American Electric Power, Cinergy, FirstEnergy, Illinois Power,Southern Indiana Gas & Electric Co., Southern Co. and TampaElectric Co. The lawsuits targeted 17 plants owned by the utilitycompanies. Also, an administrative complaint was filed against theTennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for pollution-control violationsat seven of its power plants, and notices of violations were issuedto eight other coal-fired facilities operated by Cinergy, AmericanElectric and Southern.

The coal-fired facilities, which were grandfathered under theCAA, were accused of violating the act by making majormodifications to their plants without installing the appropriatepollution-control technology. Under the CAA, Congress had limitedthese plants to only making minor modifications to their facilitiesin return for their exemption. The EPA said the facilities cited inthe lawsuits were major polluters of nitrogen oxide and sulfurdioxide emissions in the United States.

The utilities now argue that EPA’s enforcement action willprevent them from performing even routine repairs and maintenanceon their facilities, which they say could jeopardize their abilityto provide electric service to customers. But Reno and Brownerdidn’t share their concerns.

“The government’s actions in no way threaten the continuedprovision of a safe and reliable power supply for the nation.Enforcement actions do not compel the shutdown of electricutilities, nor is shutdown necessary to achieve compliance with theClean Air Act,” the two told Dingell.

An attachment to the letter said “nothing in the Clean Air Actor EPA regulations prohibits utilities from conducting routinerepairs and maintenance necessary to support existing operations;even extensive modifications are allowed so long as they do notincrease actual emissions of air pollution above levels seen inrecent years.”

©Copyright 1999 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. Thepreceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, inwhole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent ofIntelligence Press, Inc.