MI: EPA files federal lawsuit against DTE Energy

Posted on: August 6th, 2010 by Paul No Comments
Michigan’s largest energy company is being sued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating the federal Clean Air Act by overhauling a unit at its Monroe coal fired power plant without installing technology to limit emissions of health damaging pollutants.

The suit, filed against DTE Energy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Thursday, asks that the company’s Monroe Unit 2 be shut down until the company complies with federal air quality rules and asks for civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day.

DTE’s Monroe coal plant consists of four generators and is located in Monroe, Michigan on the shore of Lake Erie, about 40 miles south of Detroit. The unit at issue in this lawsuit — Unit 2 — is an 832 megawatt plant that began operating in 1973.

The EPA suit charges that in March of this year DTE began a months-long project to refurbish the boilers in use at the plant since the 70s.

EPA says that the boiler replacements amount to a major overhaul that cost about $65 million and was “unpredicted” in the life of the plant.

According to EPA the Clean Air Act requires companies that make major modifications to its plants to seek permits from the state and federal government and to install the Best Available Control Technology for limiting emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Monroe Unit 2 emitted 27,320 tons of sulfur dioxide, 8,205 tons of nitrogen oxide last year and is the largest individual source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the state, according to EPA. The agency said that DTE has predicted that by 2013, Monroe unit 2 will emit 33,816 tons of SO2 and 14,494 tons of NOX.

“S02 and NOX can combine with other elements in the air to form particulate matter known as PM 2.5. These pollutants cause harm to human health and the environment once emitted into the air, including premature death, heart attacks and lung problems.”

EPA has long warned that DTE was operating its coal plants without required pollution control equipment

In a July 24, 2009 Notice of Violation EPA told DTE that it was failing to meet Clean Air Act regulations at its Monroe plant, and at plants in St. Clair, River Rouge, Belle River and Trenton Channel.

“Unless restrained by an order of this Court,” EPA charged in its complaint against DTE, “these and similar violations of the Act will continue.”

DTE Energy spokesman John Austerberry called the lawsuit by EPA “an absurd and overly aggressive interpretation of environmental regulation” and he said that the company was ready to defend itself in court.

He described the upgrades at Monroe Unit 2 as maintenance work that is common among electric utilities and he claimed that the work at the plant would not cause an increase in emissions.

Austerberry said DTE is in the process of constructing scrubbers for both units at the Monroe facility and that further pollution control work is planned for unit 2.

“[T]he Monroe Power Plant is among the cleanest and most efficient coal plants in the country,” he said, “and with additional improvements already underway, the plant will be among the best in the world in the next few years.”

Austerberry said that any shutdown of unit 2 would raise costs for customers because the company would have to purchase replacement power in the open market.

DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE) provides power to 1.3 million Michigan residents.

Environmentalists cheered the EPA’s suit.

“It’s good to see USEPA stepping up to the plate and enforcing federal laws that protect human health and the environment,“ said Shannon Fisk, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The agency should be applauded for doing so.”

“The simple fact is that this is a company that for years now has been keeping its aging coal fired power plants going long beyond their expected life to the detriment of public health and to the detriment of air quality,“ Fisk said. “This has allowed coal-fired power to externalize its significant costs onto the lungs of the American public.”

According to Fisk the cheapest and quickest way to solve the pollution problem at DTE’s Monroe facility would be to retire the coal plant.

Short of that the company could install scrubbers to remove SO2, selective catalytic reduction to remove NOX emissions and bag houses to remove particulate emissions.

Fisk said that both of Michigan’s big power companies have extended the lives of old coal plants without required pollution controls, and he said he hopes CMS Energy will also be held responsible for Clean Air Act violations at its coal plants.

“Consumers also has a series of aging dirty coal plants that should also be shutdown or cleaned up,“ he said. “They also are facing a Notice of Violation from the EPA. They have also been engaging in modifications that don’t comply with what the act requires.”

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/davipt)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,