Supreme Court sides with EPA on coal plants

Supreme Court sides with EPA on coal plants

The Supreme Court dealt a setback to the utility industry Monday, supporting a federal clean air initiative aimed at forcing power companies to install pollution control equipment on aging coal-fired power plants.

In a unanimous decision, the justices ruled against Duke Energy Corp. in a lawsuit brought by the Clinton administration, part of an enforcement effort targeting more than a dozen utilities.

Most companies settled with the government, but several Clinton-era cases involving more than two dozen power plants in the South and the Midwest are still pending. The remaining suits demand fines for past pollution that, if levied in full, would run into billions of dollars.

The justices ruled that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., overstepped its authority by implicitly invalidating 1980 Environmental Protection Agency regulations, interpreting them in a way that favored Duke Energy.

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, said it had two coal-fired power plants in Colorado that had been tagged with violations under the Clinton administration, as the Duke Energy plant had been.

But Xcel believes the plants – Comanche 3 and Pawnee Station – do not violate EPA rules, said Lauren Buehler, Xcel’s assistant general counsel.

The utility has since reached agreements with environmental groups to address the EPA’s objections to both plants, but the EPA has not told Xcel if it is satisfied, she said.

Xcel plans to expand a coal plant in Becker, Minn., called Sherco, but that plan calls for reducing emissions and would not draw an EPA violation notice, Buehler said.

Staff writer Leslie Brooks Suzukamo contributed to this report.

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