Oct. 27, 2005 – In a victory for public-interest advocates and environmentalists earlier this week, a federal appeals court in New York State ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow its own rules and previous precedent when regulating energy plants. The finding forces the Agency to act on federal rules regardless of the actions of other government bodies.
Monday, a three-judge panel of the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA acted opposite of the law and Agency precedent when it decided to approve air-pollution-control permits to two New York energy plants despite evidence that both were operating in violation of the Clean Air Act.
As a result of the ruling, the EPA must now go back and review its decision to allow the plantâ€™s owner, NRG, to assess facility emissions in quarterly and half-year reports.
In a press statement, New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) policy analyst Jason K. Babbie called the recent court decision a "victory for every American."
"Todayâ€™s court decision upholds the governmentâ€™s responsibility to act quickly to address violations that threaten our health and environment, and requires that the public be included in that process," Babbie said.
The Circuit Court ruled that the EPA must follow its own permitting process and ordered it to review its decision to defer a ruling on the permits until the conclusion of a New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) lawsuit against NRG and Niagara Mohawk.
In that separate lawsuit, the DEC is waiting for a court decision over two emissions violations assessed at NRG in 2000.
According to court papers, DEC regulators found the plants, formerly owned by Niagara Mohawk, illegally upgraded facilities to increase output without bringing the aging plants into compliance with modern environmental standards, a direct violation of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which requires companies operating older generators to bring them into compliance with the Act upon expansion.
Last year, NYPIRG filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA after the Agency refused to enforce existing laws against the NRG-run plants in Huntley and Dunkirk. The plants are two of the stateâ€™s largest energy providers and polluters, according to state data presented to the court. Together, they put out over one-fifth of New Yorkâ€™s nitrogen oxide and 38 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions.