New York's new attorney general announced recently that he plans to file a lawsuit against a power plant in Pennsylvania for allegedly violating the federal Clean Air Act.
Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Homer City Station - a 1,884-megawatt electric power plant situated some 50 miles east of Pittsburgh - is one of the largest out-of-state contributors to acid rain in the Adirondack Park.
Schneiderman says the plant has committed multiple violations of the Clean Air Act by emitting approximately 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.
That figure, Schneiderman says, accounts for more than twice as much of all the SO2 produced by power plants in New York combined.
The attorney general says the owners of Homer City Station have "repeatedly thumbed their noses at clean air laws."
The state Attorney General's Office is being joined in the pending lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The official charge is that the current and former owners of Homer City Station ignored Clean Air Act requirements that "state-of-the-art pollution controls be installed at the plant when it underwent major modifications in the 1990s."
Schneiderman says those modifications increased the plant's pollution emissions.
Environmental organizations in the Adirondacks are already applauding the pending litigation. Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club says SO2 emissions have had "devastating impacts" on the Adirondack Park, as well as other wild areas in the northeast United States.
Woodworth says that because of acid rain, about a quarter of lakes and ponds inside the Blue Line are no longer able to support aquatic life.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan says the Homer City Station has been a top polluter for decades.
"Unfortunately, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky have not been terribly good as states in cleaning up the pollution that's doing most of its damage here in the Adirondacks," he said. "Those companies that have cleaned up have made some steady progress, and in many cases they've found it was a lot cheaper to clean up emissions than they originally thought. So it's not as if we're asking them to sacrifice."
According to Sheehan, total SO2 emissions nationwide have decreased dramatically. In the last 20 years, nearly 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide were emitted by power plants in the U.S.
"That number has decreased to about 5.5 million tons per year - a huge drop," he said. "That is, essentially, because of the acid rain program that the federal government has been running and the cap-and-trade pollution allowance reduction program that was put in place. It's been a huge success, it's cleaned up pollution much cheaper and faster than anybody anticipated, and it did it in a way that was least expensive for the power companies."
Sheehan says it's imperative for states to take action against high-polluting power plants, noting that the federal government alone doesn't have the available resources.
"New York and other states have been very aggressive in trying to get these power plants to clean up and have been extremely successful in getting the courts to order that clean-up."
The attorney general's lawsuit seeks to force Homer City to fully comply with the Clean Air Act. At the same time, the power plant must answer to a separate lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Schneiderman's suit names both the current owners of Homer City Station - which includes eight limited liability companies - and the plant's operator, EME Homer City Generation LP.
The suit also names two companies that previously owned the plant - the Pennsylvania Electric Company and the New York State Electric & Gas Corporation.