Landmark Carolina Coal Plant Pollution Case Settles

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling and 15 Years of Litigation Clear Millions of Tons of Pollution from the Air
For Immediate Release

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--On behalf of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Environment North Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center today announced a settlement in a lawsuit filed against Duke Energy after the company rebuilt a dozen coal-fired power plants without legally required pollution controls.  

Filed in December 2000, the case featured a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that prompted agreements to remove millions of tons of pollutants from the nation’s air.

Today’s settlement requires closure of three coal units at Duke Energy’s G.G. Allen plant west of Charlotte.  Last year, those units – Allen 1, 2, and 3 – emitted several thousand tons of harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air, and over a million tons of climate changing carbon dioxide.  The settlement also calls for Duke to pay $4.4 million for projects to mitigate past pollution and a $975,000 penalty.

“This case is being resolved in a way that cleans the air breathed by millions of Carolinians,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the conservation groups in the case. “This case endured efforts by the Bush-Cheney administration to stifle the clean-up of coal plants, and underscores the essential role of citizen enforcement as a backstop to protect our nation’s air and water from illegal pollution.”

“Today's settlement is good news for children, the elderly, asthmatics, and anyone who has trouble breathing on smoggy summer day,” said Dave Rogers, Environment North Carolina director. “Shutting down these dirty coal units from the past will help make our climate safer for the future, and drive North Carolina leaders to tap more of our vast potential for pollution- free wind and solar energy."

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2000 by the United States Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.  The conservation groups intervened after the Bush Administration announced it would undercut the case and others by proposing weakened pollution standards for coal plants, allowing them to rebuild without ever installing modern pollution controls.

The case reached a climax after an appeals court in Richmond ruled for Duke on a key legal point.  Over the Bush Administration’s objections, the conservation groups sought – and got – U.S. Supreme Court review of that decision.  The Court’s subsequent 9-0 reversal triggered major settlements in parallel cases across the country, including a multi-billion dollar settlement with American Electric Power in 2007 to clean up nearly a million tons of air pollutants a year from Midwest coal plants.

“This decision is another turning point for clean energy solutions,” said Michael Regan, senior director at Environmental Defense Fund and former EPA manager. “Our nation is fortunate to have Clean Air Act programs that save thousands of lives every year while saving us billions of dollars in avoided medical and environmental damage. It’s been a good opportunity to work collaboratively with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency to see that our laws are upheld and that the health of our families is defended and improved.”

Under the terms of today’s settlement, Duke Energy will close three old coal units (units 1, 2, and 3) at its Allen Steam Station by December 31, 2024.  Duke Energy’s Allen facility is a 1,155-MW coal-fired electricity generating facility, located on Lake Wylie and the Catawba River near Charlotte, NC.  The site also contains unlined, leaking coal ash pits that are the subject of litigation by conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center seeking cleanup of Duke Energy’s coal ash pollution.

Of the Duke coal plants still subject to the enforcement lawsuit prior to the settlement, only the Allen units are still operating.  Targeted units at the Buck, Cliffside, Dan River and Riverbend have already shut down.  

“Retiring three dirty, outdated coal units at Allen means Charlotte-area residents will breathe easier,” said Kelly Martin, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in North Carolina. “North Carolinians deserve clean energy and the benefits of clean air, clean water, and a stable climate.  Given the rapidly declining cost of solar and wind power and recent advancements in battery storage technologies, Duke Energy should utilize low-cost clean energy options when these units cease burning coal.”

The agreement calls for stricter emissions controls for the Allen units before they are shut-down.  In addition, to the $975,000 penalty, Duke will pay $4.4 million for specified mitigation projects including charging stations for electric vehicles and energy efficiency measures that may include a program to help low-income households save energy and money.

The proposed consent decree and its terms has been agreed to by all parties in the case and filed with the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.