Sunday, August 10, 2003

Settle dispute

Cinergy: Clean air deal stalled

Thursday was a bad air day for Cinergy. A federal court in Columbus ruled against FirstEnergy Corp., on Clean Air Act violations similar to complaints Cinergy faces in its own federal lawsuit. The same day, environmental groups began airing radio spots accusing the utility here of stalling on a $1.4 billion deal it signed 21/2 years ago to clean up its coal-burning power plants.

The Clean Air Act requires when substantial upgrades are made on such plants, scrubbers must be installed to remove sulfur dioxide and other toxic emissions. U.S. District Court Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jrdidn't buy FirstEnergy's argument that it had been doing only routine maintenance on its polluting plants and therefore did have to put in the scrubbers.

Cinergy is still negotiating with the Justice Department, EPA and the Ohio and Hoosier Environmental Councils to see if the stalled "agreement in principle" to settle its suit can be salvaged before a trial next spring. The utility company should fix its plants to settle this case and not drag it out in court and appeals. The 2000 deal provided a reasonable road map. Settlement now could prevent premature deaths from pollution and help this region comply with stricter Clean Air standards.

"Cinergy publicly agreed to reduce its pollution nearly three years ago, but has been stalling ever since in hopes that the Bush Administration will change the law to give them a free pass," said Eric V. Schaefer, EPA's former civil enforcement chief and director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

Cinergy CEO Jim Rogers argues his utility already has spent $900 million on pollution controls, and objects that the government is asking for $400 million more that weren't in the original deal. Cinergy's critics say the utility's spending on controls was required under current law; the deal called for additional spending, and new spending should be added to make up for years of delay.

Cinergy argues it is targeted by anti-coal bias and East Coast envy of our cheaper energy costs. Rogers warns the nation has become overly dependent on natural gas. He says if scrubbers aren't added in proper sequence, it can cost rate-payers more. But in 2000, Cinergy said the deal gave them the predictability they needed. New controls would allow Cinergy to keep using coal. It is time for Cinergy to honor the deal.

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