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Victory for Clean Air, Clean Energy in Lamar, Colorado

Federal Judge Rules Coal-fired Power Plant Violated Clean Air Act

Denver—A Federal court late last Friday agreed with WildEarth Guardians and ruled that a coal-fired power plant on Colorado’s eastern plains violated the Clean Air Act, handing down a victory for clean air in the community of Lamar and a setback for the Arkansas River Power Authority’s efforts to keep burning coal.

“This is a great step forward for clean energy in eastern Colorado,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “For those living in Lamar, it’s time to breathe easier knowing that the Arkansas River Power Authority’s coal-fired power plant will no longer operate illegally.”

The ruling comes nearly three years after WildEarth Guardians, working together with several residents in Lamar, Colorado, filed suit against the Arkansas River Power Authority to enforce the Clean Air Act.  The suit challenged the utility’s failure to limit toxic air pollution from its 43-megawatt power plant in Lamar, which in 2007 was converted from natural gas to burn coal. 

Represented by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic, Guardians targeted the Arkansas River Power Authority’s refusal to limit mercury and other contaminants using the most up to date technology to safeguard public health. 

In his ruling, Judge David M. Ebel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado held that the utility violated the Clean Air Act from March 2008 to July of 2012 because they failed to construct and operate the plant with the most up to date pollution controls.  The Judge ordered a trial date to determine the appropriate amount of penalties that the Arkansas River Power Authority should pay. 

“This ruling is a milestone for public health,” said Mike Harris, Director of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic.  “Importantly, it sends a resounding message to polluters everywhere that illegal air pollution will not be tolerated.”

Under the Clean Air Act, polluters can be fined up to $37,500 per day for violating, meaning the Arkansas River Power Authority—which provides power to communities throughout southeastern Colorado—faces the potential of more than $50 million in penalties for violating the past four years.

The ruling comes as the Arkansas River Power Authority is increasingly under pressure to reform.  One of its members, the City of Trinidad, has already filed suit against the utility over allegations of breach of fiduciary duty.  Recent news reports indicate the Town of Lamar is growing discontent as well (see September 27, 2012 Lamar Ledger article), with many of its commercial customers—including the Ports to Plains Truck Stop—threatening to declare energy independence by building wind turbines. 

The coal-fired power plant in Lamar has also suffered a number of mechanical setbacks since coming online in 2009.  The facility is currently not in operation, although the Arkansas River Power Authority has indicated it intends to fire the power plant back up as soon as possible.

“The cost of coal is tremendous,” said Nichols.  “We hope the Arkansas River Power Authority comes to its senses and finds a better way forward to provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy for all of southeastern Colorado.”

The University of Denver, the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, enrolls approximately 11,409 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs.  WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers of the American West.


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