Local Residents Get Permanent Reprieve from Coal’s Dirty Legacy in Salem
Landmark Resolution to Clean Air Act Citizen Suit May Be Straw that Breaks the Back of Old Coal Nationwide
Karen Wood, CLF, 617-850-1722 or 978-857-5389
Shanna Cleveland, CLF, 617-850-1716
Jane Bright, HealthLink, 617-755-2130
BOSTON, MA February 6, 2012 – Bringing a clear end to the prolonged decline of Salem Harbor Station, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and HealthLink have secured an enforceable commitment from plant owner Dominion to shut down all four units at the 60-year-old coal-fired power plant by 2014. The novel settlement of a 2010 federal lawsuit brought by CLF and HealthLink ensures that Dominion may not repower its retired coal-burning units, even if a buyer for the power was to come forward. Also, neither Dominion, nor any successor, may use coal as fuel for generating electricity on that site in the future. The settlement provides a template for the rest of the country for hastening plant shutdowns as changing market conditions, public health concerns and cleaner energy alternatives push the nation’s fleet of old, polluting dinosaurs to the brink.
Under the terms of the settlement, Dominion agreed to shut down Salem Harbor Station’s Units 1 and 2 by December 31, 2011 and Units 3 and 4 by June 1, 2014. In addition, as partial remediation for the years of pollution created by the plant, Dominion will be required to spend $275,000 to support projects that will reduce air pollution in the communities that have been most impacted by the plant’s emissions. The Clean Air Act citizen suit brought in U.S. District Court alleged that Dominion had violated the Clean Air Act more than 300 times in a five year period according to Salem Harbor Station’s own reports on opacity, a measure of the soot coming from the plant’s smokestacks. Soot, which contains harmful chemicals, metals and ash, has been linked to severe health and environmental problems.
Jonathan Peress, VP and director of CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program, said, “This outcome sends a signal to coal plant operators everywhere that they cannot avoid costs through noncompliance with the Clean Air Act. These obsolete plants that either have decided not to invest in technology upgrades or are retrofitting at ratepayers’ expense are doomed: they are staring down the barrel of cheaper and cleaner alternatives to their dirty power and public and regulatory pressure to safeguard human health. When these plants can no longer get away with breaking the law as a way to stave off economic collapse, I predict we will see a wave of shutdowns across the country.”
For years, despite its bleak financials, Salem Harbor Station has stayed in operation, earning above market prices for its power because it was deemed necessary for reliability by ISO-New England (ISO NE), the regional grid operator. Under pressure from CLF and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to expedite a solution that would allow Salem Harbor Station to retire, ISO-NE unveiled a new plan that will keep the lights on at reasonable cost to customers, while also creating a more flexible, reliable grid. The new plan calls for simple and relatively inexpensive electric transmission line upgrades that will meet the area’s reliability needs without Salem Harbor Station and allow for the deployment of newer and cleaner energy resources like energy efficiency, conservation and renewables like wind and solar.
Shanna Cleveland, staff attorney at CLF said, “The very factors that have been propping Salem Harbor Station up for years beyond its useful life – cheap coal, lax environmental oversight, and overdue reliability planning – have been pulled out from under it. Aided by a strong, sustained push over 20 years by the surrounding community, this old, polluting killer is finally going to come tumbling down. CLF, along with HealthLink and our many allies in bringing about this outcome, is looking forward to a healthier future for Salem.”
“The lawsuit is a perfect example of the power of public opinion combined with great legal work forcing change, said Jane Bright of HealthLink. “Community members pushed to understand the health and financial consequences of inhaling pollution daily and demanded action. We are proud and relieved that our efforts have begun the end of the era of illness-causing coal in Salem and look forward to breathing easier in this community and for miles around.”
“This hard-won local success story is emblematic of the need for federal transition to cleaner energy generation and ultimately instructive for other communities around hundreds of other old coal clunkers in the U.S.,” said Massachusetts State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich. “Through their mutual dedication to cleaner air and a healthier environment for all, local activists and CLF have together brought to an end to the downwind pollution my community has endured for 60 years. All are very grateful.”
Background on CLF’s Salem Harbor Station Advocacy
Conservation Law Foundation and HealthLink, along with numerous other environmental and community organizations, public health advocates and political leaders, have led a 20-year campaign to end Salem Harbor Station’s polluting legacy on the North Shore of Massachusetts.
During that time, CLF has fought multiple successful legal and policy battles to curb water and air pollution from the plant, one of Massachusetts’ so-called “Filthy Five.” At the same time, CLF has leveraged its role as a participant in the New England energy markets to advocate for regional system planning that will hasten New England’s transition to clean, renewable energy.
In 2010-11, as old coal plants’ economic viability continued to slip in the face of cheap and plentiful natural gas, CLF mounted a two-pronged legal assault on Salem Harbor Station: one, a federal lawsuit against plant owner Dominion for repeated violations of the Clean Air Act and the other, a protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to end the plant’s reliance on ratepayer subsidies stemming from incomplete planning for reliability. The day after FERC’s decision to require ISO-New England to plan for Salem Harbor Station’s retirement by 2014, Dominion announced it would no longer invest any capital in the plant and would shut down within five years. CLF’s and HealthLink’s 2010 Clean Air Act citizen suit secured an enforceable commitment from Dominion to shut down completely by June 2014 and to never burn coal on the Salem Harbor site again.
Background on Coal Free New England
CLF is working to make New England coal-free by 2020. For more than 20 years, CLF has held the region’s coal-fired power plants accountable for violations of clean air and water laws, while helping win tougher regulations to protect the environment and public health.
CLF filed the appeals of state permits that resulted in the 2011 shutdown of Somerset Station, in Somerset, Massachusetts. Working on the ground with residents, public health advocates, political leaders and other environmental organizations, CLF has been instrumental in securing enforceable commitments to shut down Salem Harbor Station in Salem, MA in 2014 and to reduce harmful air pollution from Mt. Tom Station in Holyoke, MA. CLF is in active litigation against Merrimack Station in New Hampshire for violations of the Clean Air Act. With its tenacious legal advocacy, policy initiatives and regulatory expertise, CLF is applying pressure in all the right places to rid New England of old, dirty coal plants, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and make way for clean renewable energy to power our region.
Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
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