Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | January 25, 2010

Kentucky environmental attorney Sanders says utility ratepayers tatooed for Westar Energy’s patent violations of Clean Air Act’s NSR rules.

In a honking huge Clean Air Act enforcement case, Westar Energy has agreed to spend a whopping $500 million to significantly reduce harmful air pollution from a Kansas power plant and pay a $3 million civil penalty.  As part of the settlement, Westar will also spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects.  The agreement, filed in federal court in Kansas, resolves violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review requirements at the company’s Jeffrey Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant near St. Marys, Kansas.

Under the huge settlement, Westar will install and operate pollution control equipment at the Jeffrey Energy Center that is expected to reduce combined emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by roughly 78,600 tons per year, which is 85 percent below 2007 emissions. 

In addition, Westar will surrender surplus sulfur dioxide allowances.  These allowances cannot be used again, which means that the emissions will be permanently removed from the environment.  Westar will also rebuild and optimize controls to reduce particulate matter emissions.

The settlement also requires Westar to spend $6 million on projects to benefit the environment and mitigate the adverse effects of the alleged violations including:

  • Retrofitting diesel engines on vehicles owned by or operated for public entities in Kansas with emission control equipment;
  • Installing new wind turbines that will result in the reduction of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases, and provide electricity for the benefit of a school or nonprofit;
  • Installing advanced truck stop electrification to reduce harmful emissions from idling trucks;  
  • Installing plug-in hybrid infrastructure to facilitate the use of plug-in hybrid vehicles; and  
  • Converting vehicles in Westar’s fleet to reduce pollution by retrofitting diesel vehicles with emission controls and purchasing hybrid vehicles.

In the government’s complaint filed in February of 2009, the government alleged that Westar modified all three units at the Jeffrey Energy Center, its largest coal-fired electric generating station, without installing required pollution control equipment or complying with applicable emission limits, in violation of the Clean Air Act.  The government discovered the violations through an information request submitted to Westar.

Westar Energy, based in Topeka, Kansas, generates and distributes electricity to more than 684,000 customers in Kansas.  It owns and operates three coal-fired electrical generating stations in Kansas.  The settlement applies to all three units at the Jeffrey Energy Center, which comprise 2,160 megawatts, or 73 percent, of Westar’s coal fleet.

The state of Kansas joined the federal government in the settlement.

The proposed settlement was lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. 

More information: www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/westarenergy.html

***

The U.S. District Judge, instead of the utility paying a $3 million civil penalty, should send the utility’s environmental manager, plant manager, and entire board of directors of this utility off to 30 day stay in a federal slammer for patently outrageous violations of the Clean Air Act.  These folks should also pay for their 30-day visit to jail — out of their own pockets. 

Punishing corporate managers one time through a short incarceration period would forever abate this type of conduct among the white collar managers at coal-fired utility companies across America.  Instead, look for the utility to go the Kansas Public Service Commission with an application for a rate hike in the near future to pay for this mess. 

Middle America is growing tired of being asked to foot the bill for this type of wrongful conduct through increased monthly utility bills sent to the folks living on Main Street.

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