On January 4, 2013, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation agreed to pay more than $300 million as part of a settlement reached with the EPA and the Justice Department regarding alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. The settlement demonstrates the substantial monetary penalties facing traditional coal-fired power plants for non-compliance with emissions requirements, as well as the federal government's ongoing commitment to aggressive enforcement of emissions limits. It also shows that Section 114 Information Requests remain a critical enforcement tool used by regulators to pursue enforcement initiatives.
Settlement Requires Major Investments in New Pollution Control Technology
The EPA alleged that two coal-fired power plants owned and operated by Wisconsin Public Service Corporation were in violation of prevention of significant deterioration, or PSD, requirements imposed under the Clean Air Act. The EPA also alleged that WPS had failed to submit proper permits consistent with permit requirements under Title V of the Act. The two plants have a total capacity of approximately 1,300 megawatts. The allegations followed an EPA investigation of the WPS system and were based in part on WPS's responses to Information Requests under Section 114 of the Act, formal requests for information that can signal a significant investigation.
The settlement announced on January 4 contains several elements:
Injunctive relief requiring WPS to invest approximately $300 million in new pollution control technology at the two power plants.
$1.2 million in civil penalties.
$6 million on a variety of environmental mitigation projects, including renewable energy enhancements for existing wind farms, hydroelectric facilities and vehicle fleets.
DOJ Building a Track Record of Clean Air Act Settlements
The settlement shows that the EPA continues to build a strong track record of enforcement actions to limit emissions from large power plants. Reducing emissions from sources including coal-fired plants remains one of the EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 through 2013. The WPS settlement is the twenty-fifth achieved by the DOJ and EPA thus far as part of their joint Enforcement Initiative. The settlement is also important because it demonstrates the substantial monetary penalties and costs that can result from enforcement efforts under the Clean Air Act that stem from Section 114 Information Requests issued to regulated entities.