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American Electric Power Sued for Thousands of Federal, State Air Pollution Violations at Texas SWEPCO Plant

March 10, 2005

American Electric Power Sued for Thousands of Federal, State Air Pollution Violations at Texas SWEPCO Plant

Lawsuit by Sierra Club, Public Citizen Cites Evidence From Whistleblower; Health-Threatening Soot Violations Seen Regularly Since March 2000

DALLAS, Texas   – The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Texas office of Public Citizen filed a federal lawsuit today to force American Electric Power (AEP), the nation’s largest utility company, to clean up extensive air pollution problems at its Welsh power plant operation near Pittsburg in Titus County in east Texas. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Texas, AEP’s Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) division power plant is emitting levels of soot (also known as “particulate matter”) and carbon monoxide far in excess of what is allowed under the federal Clean Air Act and the laws of the state of Texas.

The Sierra Club and Public Citizen lawsuit is based in part on detailed information from AEP’s own records first brought to light in July 2004 by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). Last summer, EIP urged the U.S. Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of AEP for extensive violations of the Clean Air Act as outlined by whistleblower Bill Wilson, a SWEPCO air quality engineer who was fired by AEP in May 2004 after calling attention to a wide range of air pollution problems at Welsh and two other power plants.

“American Electric Power seems to think that violating the Clean Air Act is good for business,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “But it’s bad news for the health of Texans, who we are seeking to protect by taking AEP to court today. We had no choice but to file this citizen lawsuit. The Environmental Protection Agency and the state have had years to step in and do something meaningful to end this problem. Instead, they sat on their hands. As became very apparent when a whistleblower finally exposed last year what is really going on at the company, AEP relies upon a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to complying with America’s environmental laws.”  

“For some time now, we’ve been concerned about the cozy relationship between the nation’s largest utility polluters and officials at the federal and state level,” said Neal Carman, clean air director of the Lone Star Sierra Club. “We know what the problems are at the Welsh plant. The solutions are affordable and have been available for many years. So, the company has no excuse for allowing these health and environment problems to persist. We have the laws to fix this problem. It is high time that all parties abide by those laws.”

“While the Justice Department continues to settle cases left over from the last administration, the White House has blocked the filing of new lawsuits against power plant polluters,” said EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. “When government agencies aren’t allowed to enforce the law, the public has no choice but to ask the courts to order cleanups.”

The Sierra Club/Public Citizen complaint outlines as many as 2,000 violations where AEP and its SWEPCO division exceeded limits on particulate matter pollution and carbon monoxide emissions.   For example, the lawsuit points out that one of the boilers at the Welsh plant has been in “nearly daily” violation of the soot limits for several years.  Studies by the EPA have linked particulate matter from power plants to hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and tens of thousands of premature deaths from lung cancer and heart disease.

The two groups are asking the court to force AEP to clean up the extensive Welsh plant air pollution problems and also to impose civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation. Prior to filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs outlined their concerns in writing on July 13, 2004, to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the governor of Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and AEP/SWEPCO. The complaint alleges that  “AEP and SWEPCO have violated and remain in violation of the Act.  Neither EPA nor TCEQ has commenced and diligently prosecuted a court action to redress these violations.”

AEP is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and is the largest electricity generator in the United States.   AEP directly or through wholly owned subsidiaries owns and operates approximately 80 power plants, more than 50 of which are coal-fired power plants.  AEP is also among the largest electric utilities in the United States, serving more than 5 million customers through its 11-state electricity transmission and distribution grid.  AEP, which reported 2003 revenues of $14.5 billion, owns and operates the Welsh Plant through its wholly owned subsidiary, Southwestern Electric Power Company.  The Welsh Power Plant is a coal-fired power plant with three coal-fired boiler units generating a total 1,650 megawatts of electric power.

To read the full text of the Sierra Club/Public Citizen complaint, click here.