Coal plants, which supply 32 percent of the nation’s electricity, remain the largest U.S. source of both sulfur dioxide and mercury — which contribute to heart and respiratory illness — as well as carbon dioxide linked to global warming.
“We’re glad AEP is going to retire these aging dinosaurs, and urge the company to ensure an equitable transition for the workers and communities most directly impacted by these retirements,” said Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk, who worked on the case.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group, closing the Tanners Creek Generating Station Unit 4 in Indiana, the Muskingum River Power Plant Unit 5 in Ohio and the Big Sandy Power Plant Unit 2 in Kentucky will prevent 203 deaths, 310 heart attacks, 3,160 asthma attacks and 188 emergency room visits annually once they stop burning coal.
By modifying the settlement, AEP will be allowed to install cheaper and less stringent pollution controls on its large Rockport coal plant in southern Indiana.
The company will now give $6 million to the eight states that, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups, filed the original 1999 lawsuit against it to address the pollution that drifts east from AEP plants in the Midwest. The states are Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The company will also provide $2.5 million to citizen groups in Indiana so they can address air pollution.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman noted in a statement, “Coal-fired power plants make the largest contribution to air pollution in New York’s skies.”
Sierra Club attorney Bruce Nilles, who helped negotiate the agreement, said in an interview that the result showed how a combination of market forces and environmental activism had weakened the hand of the coal industry in the United States. But he added that in the face of rising carbon emissions worldwide, environmentalists could not declare total victory.
“The coal industry is cracking faster than the ice sheets, but it might not be fast enough,” he said.