The nation’s biggest power generating company broke the Clean Air Act by failing to cut emissions at plants in four states and therefore fouling the air in the Northeast and harming health, the government argued Wednesday as the trial of a lawsuit against the utility began. The Associated Press reports that the case against American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, is the biggest among several filed in the waning days of the Clinton administration against utilities in the Midwest and the South.
The government and eight states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, say the company violated the law when it made major modifications to nine coal-burning plants without installing equipment that would have drastically cut pollution. As a result, the plants, in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia, continue to spew sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and soot, which cause acid rain, smog and haze downwind. The government says the pollutants lead to severe respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis. The Bush administration has rewritten the clean-air regulations that the Clinton administration used to sue the utilities, but the new rules are under review by federal courts and consequently have yet to take effect. The case is being heard in Columbus without a jury by Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. In the first case to go to trial, Judge Sargus ruled for the government against Ohio Edison. That company later agreed to spend $1.1 billion for equipment to control emissions at four plants and to pay $33.5 million in fines and environmental initiatives.