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Utilities face EPA coal plant lawsuits.

Byline: From Register-Guard and news service reports

WASHINGTON - The owners of nearly two dozen coal-burning power plants could face lawsuits from the Environmental Protection Agency for clean air violations stemming from plant expansions or improvements, according to agency officials and documents.

The EPA and the Justice Department are considering actions against operators of 22 plants for alleged violations of a regulation that the Bush administration has been trying to scale back and make less burdensome to industry.

Among the plants are facilities owned by Portland-based PacifiCorp. However, it's not clear which PacifiCorp plants are at issue. A company spokesman said the EPA has asked for information about all seven of the firm's coal-burning plants, which are in Utah, Wyoming and Arizona.

The rule requires utilities to install additional pollution controls when making expansions or improvements that result in more emissions. Utilities have argued that the rule has been abused by regulators targeting routine, needed maintenance.

No decision on whether to file the lawsuits has been made but at least 14 of the cases have been turned over to the Justice Department for possible action, an EPA official said. Some cases may be settled before going to court or possibly dropped, the EPA official and industry sources said.

The enforcement agenda represents five years of preparation by EPA staff to identify alleged clean air violations under the so-called `new source review' requirements of the Clean Air Act. Among the targets are some of the country's largest utilities.

Neither the EPA nor the Justice Department would confirm or deny on the record the pending enforcement actions.

`We will not discuss ongoing enforcement investigations,' EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said.

Justice spokesman Blaine Rethmeier said the department had no comment on pending cases, but he added, `We are vigorously prosecuting all the (new source review) cases' before the department.
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Title Annotation:Utilities; Portland-based PacifiCorp has seven plants scrutinized under a Clean Air Act rule
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 16, 2004
Words:305
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