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Electric utility forced to shut down three coal plants in settlement with environmentalists

The electric utility American Electric Power announced that it will stop burning coal by 2015 at three power plants as the result of a settlement with environmental groups, eight U.S. states and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Across the country, the coal industry faces unprecedented setbacks as its share of electricity generation plummets and the cost of coal continues to skyrocket,” said Jodi Perras, who represents the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana. “This agreement is only the latest sign of progress as our country continues to transition away from dirty, dangerous, and expensive coal-fired power plants.”

The Clean Air Task Force has estimated that 203 deaths, 310 heart attacks, 3,160 asthma attacks, and 188 emergency room visits annually will be prevented once the three power plants stop burning coal.

AEP will stop burning coal at plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, which will bring the total of announced or actual coal plant retirements nationwide to 142 since 2010. According to the Sierra Club, more than 50,000 megawatts of coal-fired power have been retired or slated for retirement since 2010.

“The coal industry is cracking faster than the ice sheets, but it might not be fast enough,” Sierra Club attorney Bruce Nilles said in an interview.

The settlement also requires AEP develop 50 megawatts of wind or solar power this year, as well as 150 megawatts of wind or solar power in Indiana or Michigan by 2015.  AEP will spend $2.5 million to improve air quality in Indiana.

The settlement modifies the 2007 resolution of a lawsuit that was originally filed in federal court in 1999. Parties to the lawsuit included the EPA, eight states — including New York and Massachusetts — and 13 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Hoosier Environmental Council.

The shutdowns represent another victory for anti-coal activists, who recently managed to halt plans to build the White Stallion coal-fired power plant in Matagorda County, Texas. Ultimately, litigation costs and potential federal environmental regulations contributed to the project’s termination.

“We’re glad AEP is going to retire these aging dinosaurs, and urge the company to ensure an equitable transition for the workers and communities most directly impacted by these retirements,” said Shannon Fisk, an attorney with Earthjustice and co-counsel with the Sierra Club in the lawsuit.

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