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The government and a New Jersey utility reached a settlement Thursday in which the company agreed to pay $1.4 million in penalties and spend more than $340 million to reduce air pollutants from two power plants by tens of thousands of tons annually. The settlement is only the second of its kind under new environmental rules adopted in the mid-1990s and could prompt similar agreements to resolve lawsuits seeking pollution reductions at aging coal-fired plants throughout most of the eastern United States. It requires Public Service Enterprise Group Fossil LLC to install new pollution controls to curb sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired plants in Jersey City and Hamilton, N.J. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the accord reflects a “continuing commitment to enforce vigorously the Clean Air Act” to protect public health and the environment. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, said the settlement “will improve the air quality for those who live around the Mercer and Hudson plants.” She called it “an excellent example of how effective federal and state partnerships in enforcement actions can greatly benefit the environment and assure public health protection.” Frank Cassidy, president of PSEG Power, which includes the PSEG Fossil subsidiary, said the 10-year program for cutting reductions at the two plants resulted from talks the company initiated with EPA more than a year ago. “We are investing in advanced emissions control technologies that will deliver significant results in a reasonable timeframe,” he said in a statement. “Coal has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of affordable energy in this country. But technologies exist to burn coal cleanly.” The settlement followed by eight days a Justice Department announcement that it would pursue lawsuits begun during the Clinton administration against the owners of 51 coal-burning power plants. Those suits had effectively been on hold since President Bush took office. The Bush administration, as part of its energy policy unveiled last spring, had ordered a review of how the EPA was enforcing the Clean Air Act, including the suits filed in 1999. Officials said PSEG Fossil will be required to annually cut its emissions of sulfur dioxide from the two plants by 36,000 tons, an amount equal to a fifth of all that pumped out by all sources, including cars and trucks, in New Jersey. It also will have to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 18,000 tons — equal to 5 percent of all sources in that state. The settlement still has to be approved by a federal judge in Newark, N.J. Along with spending $337 million on scrubbers for reducing sulfur dioxide pollution and catalytic converters to cut nitrogen oxides, PSEG Fossil agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1.4 million and to spend $6 million on three pollution-cutting projects. The settlement is the first since February 2000, when the EPA reached a $1 billion agreement with Tampa Electric Co. in Florida to cut tens of thousands of tons of pollution annually from two power plants there. The Bush administration is still reviewing the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act during the Clinton administration, under which the suits were brought. Whitman met Wednesday with attorneys general from seven East Coast states and promised a decision within several weeks. The Clean Air Act requires utilities to install expensive pollution control measures when older plants are modified to produce more electricity with less coal. Utilities have argued that the modifications to the older plants are maintenance measures that don’t require new pollution controls. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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