United States of America, et al. v. American Electric Power Service Corp., et al.: As part of a renegotiated settlement between the nation’s largest electric power producer and eight states, Connecticut officials are hoping for better air quality, which would benefit people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Connecticut will also get more than $714,000 as part of the agreement, with the money to be used for pollution mitigation projects.

American Electric Power Company Inc. of Ohio asked to revise the terms of a settlement agreement, which in 2007 resolved a federal-multistate lawsuit over harmful pollution emitted by 16 of the company’s coal-fired power plants across the Midwest and South. That settlement required the company to install $4.6 billion worth of pollution controls and to invest $60 million in air pollution reduction projects.

American Electric Power Company asked for the agreement to be reopened to change the pollution control technology at a coal-fired plant in Indiana. It will now use technology that will not reduce sulfur dioxide emissions as much. In exchange, the company agreed to meet a lower sulfur dioxide limit across its Eastern system beginning in 2016.

"My office agreed to reopen the settlement only if the changes would result in a greater environmental benefit to the state and the people of Connecticut who suffer from higher rates of asthma than those nationally," Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement. "This new agreement accomplishes that goal by reducing a significant source of sulfur dioxide pollution faster. It also commits AEP to equip more plants with pollution controls, switch them to cleaner fuels or close them down."

Under the new settlement filed last month in federal court in Ohio, AEP agreed to retire several other plants, or switch them over to natural gas power. The emissions at those plants, in Ohio and Indiana, affect air quality in the Northeast, officials say.

AEP also agreed to pay $6 million, to be divided by the eight states participating in the agreement, for pollution mitigation projects and to invest in renewable wind energy projects under certain conditions. Connecticut’s share is $714,286.

"Our residents have long suffered the public health consequences of air pollution carried here from power plants elsewhere that burn dirtier fuels, while these other states benefited economically from low-cost electricity," said state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty in a statement. "The settlement with AEP – and the new revisions to it – moves us closer to closing this unfortunate chapter in our history."

Sulfur dioxide is an air pollutant produced by the combustion of fossil fuels in power plants and by oil combustion. Exposure can adversely affect the respiratory system and increase asthma symptoms.

Sulfur dioxide also reacts with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles, which are able to penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease.

As part of the new settlement terms, AEP will cap its annual sulfur dioxide emissions at 145,000 tons by 2016, and progressively reduce that annual cap to 94,000 tons in 2029. The original agreement capped sulfur dioxide emissions for 2016 at 260,000 tons and ended cap reductions in 2019 at 174,000 tons.

According to a spokesperson from Esty’s office, Connecticut has not yet received its share of the funds from the revised settlement but said the money would be used towards projects to reduce air pollution.

"Funds from similar settlements in the past have been used to help cities and towns replace older, inefficient diesel vehicles with new, cleaner vehicles," said Dennis Schain, communications director for the state DEEP. "We have also worked with school systems to provide funds to reduce diesel emissions – through retrofits or purchase of new buses – aimed at reducing diesel emissions."

Since 2000, Connecticut children and adults have had a higher incidence of asthma than those nationally, according to Jepsen.

Jepsen points to a recent state Department of Health report which showed that trend continued in 2010, when roughly 9.2 percent of Connecticut adults and 11.3 percent of Connecticut children — about 330,000 people in all — had asthma. In contrast, the national asthma rate is 8.2 percent for adults and 9.2 percent for children.

Asthma disproportionately affected Connecticut’s children, females, Hispanics, non-Hispanic Blacks, and residents of the state’s five largest cities, according to the report. Left uncontrolled or poorly-managed, asthma can lead to emergency department visits, hospitalization, or death. Asthma was blamed for 197 deaths in Connecticut between 2005 and 2009.

Assistant Attorneys General Lori DiBella and Kimberly Massicotte, head of the Environment Department, worked with Jepsen on this matter.•