Feds Sue Coal Plant In Homer City, PA For Unlawful Pollution

01/07/2011 01:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

HOMER CITY, Pa. — The federal government on Thursday sued several companies over a coal-burning electricity generating plant, calling it "one of the largest air pollution sources in the nation" and asking the court to keep it from operating unless it meets Clean Air Act standards.

The Department of Justice lawsuit, filed in Pittsburgh at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the plant, with coal-fired, steam-generating boilers, had been modified unlawfully, resulting in significant discharge of harmful chemicals into the air around it in Homer City, a tiny rural community about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.

"These pollutants harm public health and the environment, contributing to premature mortality, asthma attacks, acid rain and other adverse effects in downwind communities and natural areas," the lawsuit says.

The defendants include EME Homer City Generation LP and previous owners and operators New York State Electric & Gas Corp., or NYSEG, of Rochester, N.Y., and Erie-based Pennsylvania Electric Co., also known as Penelec.

A spokesman for the plant's current operator, Edison Mission Energy, of Santa Ana, Calif., said the company hadn't reviewed the lawsuit and couldn't comment on it. But he noted the company has spent about $300 million since its 1999 purchase to reduce emissions.

"It appears, based on an earlier notice of intent that we received from the government, that all of the alleged violations occurred before we acquired the facility," spokesman Charley Parnell said.

Edison Mission Energy is a subsidiary of Edison International, of Rosemead, Calif.

Penelec spokesman Scott Surgeoner also declined to comment because the lawsuit hadn't been reviewed. But he noted the company sold its share of the Homer City plant more than a decade ago. Penelec is a subsidiary of First Energy Corp., of Akron, Ohio.

NYSEG spokesman Clay Ellis said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit asks the court for an injunction to prevent operation of the plant in violation of the Clean Air Act, to require defendants to obtain permits and remedy past violations, to force them to audit modifications and report the results and to have them surrender emissions allowances or credits to offset illegal emissions.

It also wants an order that the defendants "take other appropriate actions to remedy, mitigate and offset the harm to public health and the environment" caused by violations of the Clean Air Act, and it seeks civil penalties and legal costs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul E. Skirtich declined to comment.