MAC/20: Mines and Communities

US Court to Review Duke Energy Clean Air Ruling

Published by MAC on 2006-05-16

US Court to Review Duke Energy Clean Air Ruling

Planet Ark US

16th May 2006

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court said Monday it would hear an appeal by environmentalists of a ruling that Duke Energy Corp. did not violate clean air laws by modernizing eight coal-burning power plants in North and South Carolina without obtaining a permit.

The justices agreed to review a US appeals court ruling that the utility did not violate the Clean Air Act when it undertook the modernization program at the plants between 1988 and 2000. The appeals court ruled that Duke did not need a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency because hourly emissions from the plants would not increase.

It rejected the government's argument that the law also applied to changes that result in a plant operating more hours each year. The appeals court upheld a decision by a federal judge in North Carolina.

Attorneys from an environmental group involved in the appeal hailed the US Supreme Court's decision to hear the case.

"Over 160 million Americans, more than half of the country, live in communities out of compliance with the nation's health standards and today the Supreme Court took a big step toward aiding those communities in their efforts to restore healthy air," said Environmental Defense attorney Vickie Patton.

"We're very pleased that the court agreed to review the Duke Energy decision, which rests on a flawed interpretation of the Clean Air Act, and which industry has been citing in numerous other cases in an effort to undermine essential pollution controls applicable to some of the nation's largest sources of air pollution" said another attorney, Sean Donahue.

The lawsuit was brought by the Clinton administration's Justice Department in 2000 in an effort to require power-plant operators to upgrade pollution equipment as part of projects that expand their facilities.

Several environmental groups intervened in the lawsuit. They appealed to the Supreme Court and said the case presented "recurring issues of national importance."

Thirteen states -- California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Vermont -- supported the appeal. Even though it lost before the appeals court, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. It said the EPA under the Bush administration has proposed new regulations that "can address any difficulties caused by the court of appeals' decision." Duke Energy also opposed the appeal. The high court will hear arguments in the case and then issue a decision during its upcoming term that begins in October

Story by James Vicini

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

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