Dirty Energy Denied
Judge Holds Clean Air Violations at Lamar, Colorado Coal-fired Power Plant can be Enforced by WildEarth Guardians
that clean air violations were likely to continue, a federal judge late last
week ruled that WildEarth Guardians could hold the coal-fired power plant in
Lamar, Colorado accountable for its illegal air pollution.
“Dirty energy is dangerous energy and this ruling ensures we
can move to make Lamar and southeastern Colorado safer from harmful air
pollution from this coal-fired power plant,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth
Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “Our members in Lamar are breathing a sigh of relief, now
all we need is real accountability.”
The coal-fired power plant in Lamar, Colorado has tallied up
thousands of air quality violations since it started operation in 2009. The 43 megawatt power plant in
southeastern Colorado, which is owned and operated by the Arkansas River Power
Authority, was converted from natural gas to coal. Since beginning operation, the plant has been plagued with
problems and has been unable to consistently meet air pollution limits meant to
protect public health and welfare.
WildEarth Guardians filed suit in early 2011 based on the
Arkansas River Power Authority’s own reports of more than 2,000 clean air
violations. The utility’s reports,
which were submitted to the State of Colorado, revealed violations of limits on
sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide gases,
carbon monoxide, and particulate matter,
all of which are linked to number of adverse health effects.
Since then, the plant has tallied
up even more violations.
Between July and October 2011, the plant exceeded its pollution limits
and monitoring requirements on hundreds of occasions.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger in
Denver rejected an argument by the Arkansas River Power Authority that an
out-of-court settlement agreement with the State of Colorado would prevent
clean air violations from ever happening again at the coal-fired power
plant. Judge Krieger pointed to
the fact that, despite two out-of-court settlements with Colorado, clean air
violations continued to occur at the plant.
“Colorado has been utterly incapable of ensuring this
coal-fired power plant complies with clean air laws,” said Nichols. “Thankfully, the judge recognized this
and gave the green light for WildEarth Guardians to do the job right.”
In rejecting the Authority’s arguments, the Judge stated,
“...the Court notes nothing in the record that indicates that the system(s)
responsible for prior permit violations has been corrected such that the
Defendants can say with some assurance that the Plant can resume operations in
accordance with the permit’s restrictions.”
The ruling means that WildEarth Guardians can prosecute the
violations at the Lamar power plant and compel the Arkansas River Power
Authority to clean up. In
addition, the ruling means that WildEarth Guardians can compel the utility to
pay civil penalties. Under the Clean Air Act, the Authority could be penalized
as much as $37,500 per day for each violation, meaning the utilities face more
than $75,000,000 in penalties.
Under the Clean Air Act, citizens can file suit in federal
court under the Clean Air Act against polluters that are violating their
permit. As Judge Krieger noted in
her ruling, “The purpose
of the citizen suit provision is to ‘aid enforcement of the [Clean Air] Act
while motivating governmental agencies charged with the responsibility to bring
enforcement and abatement proceedings.’”
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit organization dedicated to
protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers of the
American West. With over4,500
members in the West and offices in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, WildEarth
Guardians works to promote clean energy and hold fossil fuels accountable to
protecting public health and the environment.