In a settlement with the United States, Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, has agreed to install pollution control technology, continue operating existing pollution controls and comply with emission rates to reduce harmful air pollution from the company’s five coal-fired power plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon and Luna Pier, Michigan, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The settlement will resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Air Act by modifying their facilities in a way that caused the release of excess sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions by over 46,500 tons per year, which includes approximately 38,400 tons per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 8,100 tons per year of nitrogen oxide (NOx). The company estimates that it will spend over $1 billion to implement the required measures. The pollution reductions will be achieved through the installation, upgrade, and operation of state-of-the-art pollution control devices designed to reduce emissions and protect public health. Consumers Energy will also take several coal-fired units offline and may repower additional coal-fired units with natural gas.
The settlement requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million to resolve Clean Air Act violations and spend at least $7.7 million on environmental projects to help mitigate the harmful effects of air pollution on the environment and benefit local communities.
“The required pollution controls and funding for mitigation projects will reduce harmful pollution in American communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case demonstrates that energy can be provided to local communities in a responsible way that significantly reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide known to contribute to serious health concerns.”
“Today’s settlement will bring cleaner air to residents in Michigan by removing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollution from the atmosphere,” said Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will render benefits to communities far into the future with pollution-reduction projects that will improve public health and help restore natural resources downwind of the plants.”
The settlement requires the company install to pollution control technology and implement other measures to reduce sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions from its five coal-fired power plants, comprising 12 operating units. Among other requirements, the company must comply with declining system-wide limits for SO2 and NOx and meet emission rates. In addition, the company must retire or refuel two units to natural gas and retire an additional five units.
SO2 and NOx, two predominant pollutants emitted from power plants, have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. These pollutants are converted in the air to particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts, and premature death.
The settlement also requires Consumers Energy to spend at least $7.7 million on projects that will benefit the environment and local communities, including paying $500,000 to the National Park Service for the restoration of land, watersheds, vegetation and forests or combating invasive species in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park.
The remaining $7.2 million will be spent on a series of mitigation projects. Potential projects include efforts to reduce vehicle emissions, install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, replace or retrofit wood burning appliances, and protect and restore ecologically significant lands in Michigan. Consumers Energy has five years to complete its selected projects.
This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful emissions from large sources of pollution, which includes coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements. The total combined SO2 and NOx emission reductions secured from all these settlements will exceed 2 million tons each year once all the required pollution controls have been installed and implemented.
Consumers Energy is Michigan’s second-largest electric and natural gas utility, providing electric service to more than 6 million people in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.