The Duke Energy Corporation of North Carolina recently announced a settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Duke Energy operates coal power plants around the state and finally settled a 15 year-old court case addressing violations of the Clean Air Act [42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. (1970)] at five of its facilities, which was scheduled for trial this month. The language and terms used to regulate industries’ air emissions can be confusing, complex and/or ambiguous. Understanding the implications of protracted litigation, such as this one, over the interpretation of a federal statute is essential to guiding manufacturers and other businesses who seek to change or modify their existing plants. Such changes can lead to substantial environmental liability if not performed in accordance with the terms of Clean Air Act.

The EPA alleged that in 2000, the 13 coal-fired generators at the Dan River, Riverbend, Cliffside, Allen, and Buck locations were modified without permits to regulate the amount of air pollution produced plants. Most of these generators were temporarily shut down pending investigation. The settlement makes the shutdowns permanent. The other units are to be retired by 2024 while meeting certain emissions limits while they remain in operation.

In addition to removing the units from operation, Duke is also required to pay a fine of $975,000 in civil penalties and will have to invest over four million dollars to fund local environmental mitigation projects, including work with the National Park Service to foster wildlife restoration efforts and investments in supplying lower-income families with energy efficient heating units.

The EPA emphasized the benefits of the settlement, stating that shutting down the generators will drastically reduce the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the areas surrounding the plants. The EPA has been on a national mission to reduce pollution generated by some of the largest sources in the country in order to further its goal of protecting human health by reducing problems like asthma and other respiratory diseases in the local populations.

The federal government pursued the case with Environmental Defense and North Carolina environmental groups since 2000. The EPA was supported by the 2007 US Supreme Court decision, in Environmental Defense et al. v. Duke Energy Corp. et al, agreeing with the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act as it applies to modifications of pollution sources.

Philadelphia Environmental Compliance Lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. Understand Environmental Compliance Law

At Michelman & Bricker, P.C., our Philadelphia environmental lawyers have been closely following the lengthy litigation over Duke Energy’s alleged non-compliance with the Clean Air Act and the decisions interpreting that statute. We provide legal counsel on compliance with all relevant environmental statutes and will help negotiate a fair settlement to minimize your exposure if a violation has occurred. We have experience negotiating with state and federal authorities over complex claims involving the Clean Air Act, and other state and federal environmental claims. For example, we have assisted clients whose construction at their manufacturing facilities was performed before obtaining a permit, thus subjecting them to Clean Air Act violations. We worked on behalf of a printing facility to resolve a civil penalties action for construction of the New Source prior to issuance of permit.

Please call 215-557-9440 or contact us online today to schedule your consultation at our offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or Cherry Hill, New Jersey.