WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping settlement Thursday with the Tennessee Valley Authority over pollution from 11 coal-fired power plants in at least three states.
The agreement, which addresses violations of the Clean Air Act at plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, requires the TVA to invest an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion on new and upgraded pollution controls. It must retire at least 18 of its 59 coal-fired boilers and install emission-control equipment on almost all the remaining ones.
"We don't have anything against coal, but we have to reduce pollution that comes from coal to our air, our water and to our land," EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said Thursday.
The TVA also agreed to invest $350 million on clean energy projects to reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health. The 11 plants provide power to roughly 9 million people in Alabama, and parts of Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the EPA.
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The National Park Service and the National Forest Service will also receive $1 million to "improve, protect or rehabilitate forest and park lands that have been impacted by emissions from TVA's plants, including Mammoth Cave National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park," EPA officials said.
The four plants closest to North Carolina will be among the first to be controlled or shut down, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office said Thursday.
"North Carolina businesses will benefit with lower health care costs and more tourism dollars, and all of us benefit from better health," Cooper said in a statement.
Cooper, on behalf of North Carolina, had filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the TVA in 2006, claiming that the utility's coal-fired plants sent polluted air into North Carolina. Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth Foundation helped develop the settlement.
Lawmakers from coal-producing states criticized the decision.
"Today's announcement by TVA is a prime example of what is wrong with national environmental policy in the United States — it is being determined by privately settled lawsuits and monetary payoffs with absolutely no input from elected representatives in the Congress. We intend for this to stop," said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Other lawmakers worried that the decision would mean rate increases for consumers.
"This is bad news for Kentucky consumers," said Robert Steurer, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "It reduces TVA's flexibility and will lead to higher utility rates for some Kentuckians."
Environmental groups applauded the decision.
"For decades, the Smoky Mountains has suffered from a slow motion crisis," said Don Barger, senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Air pollution from TVA's coal-fired power plants has degraded scenic vistas, damaged plant species, and impaired human health. Today's settlement halts that trend and sends us in the right direction."
(Abdullah reported from Washington. Cornatzer, of the News & Observer, reported from Raleigh, N.C.)
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