25 february 2013

Victory for Climate, Public Health: US Coal Giant to Shut Down Three Plants

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer Common Dreams, February 25, 2013

In a victory for advocates of clean air and water, energy giant American Electric Power will now be shutting down three coal-fired power plants and significantly reducing air pollution at 13 others across the Midwest and Southern United States.

The agreement was made in a settlement between AEP and a coalition of 13 citizen groups, eight states, and the EPA—bringing an over decade old lawsuit to a close.

In the agreement AEP will also agree to replace a portion of the coal plants with new wind and solar investments in Indiana and Michigan.

“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.

Coal plants currently supply 32 percent of the nation’s electricity, and are the largest U.S. source of both sulfur dioxide and mercury as well as carbon dioxide linked to global warming.

The cuts will not happen immediately, however. AEP and its subsidiaries will reduce their total SO2 emissions by roughly 90 percent by 2029 from its baseline emissions; however, this agreement means that by 2015 AEP will have to stop burning coal at three power plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

“Today’s agreement will protect public health, reduce the threat of climate disruption, and create a cleaner environment for families in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Across the country, the coal industry faces unprecedented setbacks as its share of electricity generation plummets and the cost of coal continues to skyrocket. This agreement is only the latest sign of progress as our country continues to transition away from dirty, dangerous, and expensive coal-fired power plants.”

"According to estimates from the Clean Air Task Force, 203 deaths, 310 heart attacks, 3,160 asthma attacks, and 188 emergency room visits per year will be averted once the Muskingum River, Tanners Creek and Big Sandy power plants stop burning coal," Earthjustice reports Monday.

In addition to benefiting public health, the settlement is also a victory for the climate in its vast reduction of greenhouse gases. Environment News Service reports that a total of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide and nearly 84,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution will be cut each year.

“Across the Midwest and the Great Plains, in states like Iowa and South Dakota that already get 20 percent of their energy from wind sources, clean energy is powering homes, putting people back to work, and protecting families from dangerous and expensive coal-fired power plants,” said Kerwin Olson, Executive Director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. “Indiana has one of the fastest growing wind industries in the nation and is creating thousands of local jobs. This settlement builds on that success and will only accelerate Indiana’s and our nation’s responsible transition to an economy powered by clean, renewable, affordable sources of energy.”

The settlement also involves a $6 million payout from AEP to eight states involved in the settlement: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Those funds will cover programs to "mitigate the effects of air pollution carried east from AEP’s Midwest plants," according to Environmental News Service.

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