Louisiana Generating to Spend $250 Million On Air Pollution Controls to Settle Lawsuit

HOUSTON--A Louisiana electricity generating company has agreed to invest $250 million in new pollution control equipment over the next three years at a coal-fired power plant under a settlement to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (United States v. Louisiana Generating, M.D. La., No. 3:09-cv-00100, proposed consent decree filed 11/20/12).

Louisiana Generating, a unit of NRG Energy Inc., also agreed to pay a $3.5 million civil fine and spend $10.5 million on environmental mitigation projects to further reduce emissions and benefit communities adversely affected by pollution from the company's Big Cajun II plant near New Roads, La., the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced Nov. 20.

The settlement allocates $1.75 million, one-half of the civil penalty, to the state of Louisiana.

The proposed consent decree, filed Nov. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period.

This is the 24th settlement under EPA's national enforcement initiative to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants under new source review requirements of the Clean Air Act (43 ER 1748, 7/6/12).

New source review requires emissions sources such as power plants to install updated pollution controls when they expand or make modifications that increase emissions.

The government had alleged that Louisiana Generating violated federal and state laws by continuing to operate Big Cajun II Units 1 and 2 without obtaining required permits and installing best available control technology after making the largest boiler modifications in the plant's history. EPA began an investigation of the facility in 2004, issued notices of violation in 2005 and 2006, and filed a complaint in federal court in February 2009.

If approved by the court, the settlement would eliminate over 27,300 tons of pollutant emissions per year at the plant, including 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 3,300 tons of nitrogen oxides, the Justice Department and EPA said. The reductions will be made through a combination of new pollution controls, natural gas conversion, and annual emission caps at all three units at the facility.

With the agreement, Louisiana Generating will install selective non-catalytic reduction control equipment to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions on all three units at Big Cajun II and install dry sorbent injection equipment on the facility's Unit 1 to reduce sulfur dioxide, according to Louisiana Generating.

The company also agreed to further cut air pollution by 2025 by reducing sulfur dioxide by at least another 4,000 tons annually.

“This settlement continues our important enforcement initiative to reduce harmful illegal air pollution from the largest sources of emissions,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's office of enforcement and compliance assurance.

Louisiana Generating will be required to submit periodic reports during the year to the government providing necessary information to determine compliance with requirements of the consent decree.

Environmental Mitigation Projects Detailed

Under the settlement, environmental projects will include installation of solar photovoltaic panels at local schools, government-owned facilities, or buildings owned by nonprofit groups; mitigation of nitrogen loading in the False River that also will reduce phosphorus loading and prevent harmful algal blooms; and restoration and protection of land, watersheds, vegetation, and forests through a $500,000 grant to the National Park Service, the government said.

Additionally, the company will earmark environmental project funds to create one or more charging stations for electric vehicles in South Louisiana that are supplied with zero emission renewable energy sources and conduct energy efficiency projects that could include voltage optimization and residential energy efficiency.

A portion of the funds, $1.5 million, will be used by the state of Louisiana for various programs that may include retrofitting vehicles with pollution controls, truck stop electrification, buyback programs for dirty old motors, and removal or replacement of oil-fired home heaters with ultra-low sulfur oil and outdoor wood-fired boilers, the Justice Department and EPA said.

By Susanne Pagano  

The proposed consent decree in United States v. Louisiana Generating is available at http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/air/documents/decrees/lagen-cd.pdf.