Obama's EPA fires a warning shot at polluters

It's time for coal-fired power plant operators to clean up their act. There's a new sheriff in town.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 5, 2009 7:17PM (EST)

Is that blue sky I see above a coal-fired power plant?

George Bush's EPA spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to gut the Clean Air Act so as to enable  electric utilities to pollute more freely. Barack Obama's EPA is taking a different approach. On Wednesday, the EPA announced it was suing Westar Energy, the largest electric utility in Kansas, for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Specifically, the complaint accuses Westar of "making major modifications to the Jeffrey Energy Center, a coal-fired power plant in St. Marys, Kan., without also installing and operating modern pollution control equipment."

From the press release:

The complaint alleges that for more than a decade, the Jeffrey Energy Center has operated without the best available emissions-control technology required by the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, contributing to formation of fine particulate matter, smog and acid rain.

The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the EPA, asks the court to order Westar Energy to install and operate appropriate air pollution control technology in order to substantially reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions from the Jeffrey Energy Center. The United States also seeks civil penalties up to the maximum amount authorized by law, as well as actions by the energy provider to mitigate the adverse effects alleged to have been caused by the violations.

The press release further notes that the crackdown is part of "a national initiative, targeting electric utilities whose coal-fired power plants violate the law."

Combined with the astoundingly frank statements made to the L.A. Times by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in which he declared that climate change could result in "a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California," and "I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going," and one must concede, no matter how much Senate Republicans mess with White House legislative efforts, there's still no getting around the fact that there's a new sheriff in town.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew LeonardFOLLOW koxinga21LIKE Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Environment Globalization How The World Works