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Court Orders EPA to Reject Power Plant Permits

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A federal appeals court has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to take immediate action to reduce air pollution at two coal-fired power plants in Western New York.

The Second Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled this week in a complicated case involving the Huntley Tonawanda and Dunkirk power plants operated by NRG Energy. Last January, NRG and the state Department of Environmental Conservation reached a settlement that would reduce air pollution at the plants.

But the New York Public Interest Research Group sued, claiming the the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, should have vetoed the air pollution permits issued by the state agency because they didn't go far enough. NYPIRG's Jason Babbie says the court apparently agreed with their contention.

"The air permits for Huntley and Dunkirk should have been more stringent, when it had already been determined that they were breaking the law according to the Clean Air Act," Babbie said. "If they would have done that, we would have had cleaner air sooner."

According to the appeals court ruling, the EPA violated the central intent of what's known as Title V of the Clean Air Act -- that is, giving the public access to all relevant information on plant emission and the ability to challenge any measures they find to be inadequate.

Babbie said the ruling goes beyond just protecting people living near the two power plants.

"Because we sued EPA, this has national precedence because it puts EPA and other state agencies on notice that they can't issue air permits, pretending nothing has happened when we know a facility is a law breaker," Babbie said.

NYPIRG says the Huntley and Dunkirk plants are two of the state's most notorious polluters, responsible for 38 percent of sulfur dioxide and 21 percent of nitrogen oxide emitted by all power plants statewide.