Dairyland Power settles lawsuit over alleged Clean Air Act violations

Published On: Jun 29 2012 10:14:57 AM CDT   Updated On: Jun 29 2012 06:08:02 PM CDT

LA CROSSE, Wis. --  Dairyland Power Cooperative will spend millions to settle a lawsuit alleging violations to the federal Clean Air Act.

The cooperative announced the settlement at a news conference Friday morning. Click here to read it.

The Sierra Club filed the civil lawsuit in June 2010. The suit alleged Clean Air Act violations at Dairyland Power's coal-fired power plants in Genoa and Alma.

"Burning fossil fuels like coal has a whole host of environmental problems including mercury pollution, smog pollution [and] contributes to global warming all down the line," said Bruce Nilles, senior director of Sierra's Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "So it's bad for our enviroment and it's also bad economically."

In the settlement with the EPA and Sierra Club, Dairyland Power admits no violations of law and will pay a $950,000 civil penalty.

"I want to be clear that Dairyland had no violations of law in this agreement," said Bill Berg, Dairyland Power Cooperative's president and CEO. "In fact, we believe we would have prevailed in this litigation, but that would have taken a long time to resolve and we wanted certainty with our environmental project and the assurance that they would meet EPA requirements."

Dairyland Power has also agreed to invest about $150 million in pollution control technology.

The U.S. Department of Justice says Dairyland Power must pay $250,000 each to the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, to be used on projects to address damage done from the cooperative's alleged excess emissions.

“This agreement also demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to enforcing the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act, which help ensure cleaner air for those communities located near large sources of air pollution,” says Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

“A long, drawn out legal battle would not be in the best financial interest of Dairyland’s members," says Bill Berg, Dairyland President and CEO.  "Since we had already begun adding hundreds of millions of dollars of air emission controls at our power plants, we agreed to work toward a settlement to reduce the risk of uncertain outcomes and the accompanying additional rate pressure for our cooperative consumers. Dairyland stands by its strong belief that our cooperative did not violate the law.”

The cooperative also agreed to emissions limits for the plants, and will continue with plans to install additional air emissions control equipment at the plants.

"I think it has to be a win-win because everybody has to agree to it," said Berg. "I think it's a win for the EPA, the Sierra Club and for Dairyland Power Cooperative."

Along penalties, Dairyland Power will invest $5 million over a five-year period to projects that boost renewable energy, energy efficiency and public land improvement.

Nilles hopes Friday's announcement will help set the course for the future of clean energy in the state.

"Wiscnosin is lagging far behind states like Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, [and] Illinois on clean energy investments," said Nilles. "So today's announcement hopefully jumpstarts the conversation, but we will not be done even with today's progress."

At least $2 million will be spent on a major solar photovoltaic development project. The remaining money will be spent on one or more of the following projects; 1) installation of solar photovoltaic panels, 2) home weatherization projects, and 3) the replacement of Dairyland Power's standard vehicle fleet with cleaner burning vehicles.