Agreement ends landmark lawsuit for clean air

The closure of three coal-fired units at Duke Energy's G.G. Allen plant, above, ends an air pollution case that led to agreements to clean up power plant emissions across the country. Inset, from right: Deputy Director Jeff Gleason, Managing Attorney Blan Holman and Director of our Virginia office Cale Jaffe on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2007.

SELC and our partners have reached the final milestone in a 15-year legal journey that, along the way, has led to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision and agreements to keep millions of tons of pollution out of the nation’s air.

On behalf of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Environment North Carolina, SELC has finalized a settlement with Duke Energy that, among other things, includes the closure of three coal-fired generating units at its G. G. Allen power plant west of Charlotte. This wraps up a lawsuit the federal government initially filed against Duke in 2000 for failing to install up-to-date emission controls on these facilities and others it rebuilt in the Carolinas—in violation of the Clean Air Act.

SELC and our partners joined the lawsuit when the Bush-Cheney administration proposed a rollback in power plant regulations that undercut the case. Plus, we prevented the government from dropping the lawsuit after a federal appeals court ruled for Duke. Over the administration’s objections, we took the case to the Supreme Court and, in an opinion handed down in April 2007, all nine justices agreed with us: utilities cannot extend the lives of “grandfathered” power plants and increase their yearly emissions without installing modern pollution controls. 

The ruling sent the case back to a federal district court in North Carolina, where it has been pending until our recent settlement. In the meantime, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision has helped EPA secure major settlements in parallel cases across the country, including a settlement with American Electric Power in 2007 that amounts to the largest cleanup of power plant pollution in history.

Also in the intervening years, Duke has shuttered all the old, dirty coal plants targeted by our lawsuit except for the three units at the Allen plant near Charlotte. Under our agreement, Duke will reduce the emissions from these facilities until they, too, are shut down.

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