The Associated Press September 10, 2011, 4:52PM ET

Judge dismisses case over pollution at DTE plant

A judge has dismissed a significant lawsuit by federal regulators who want to force DTE Energy to install more pollution controls at Michigan's largest coal-fired power plant.

After more than a year of litigation, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman didn't need a trial to convince him to rule in favor of the utility. He said the Environmental Protection Agency went to court too soon and needs to collect more data to determine whether improvements at Monroe Unit 2 have caused an increase in emissions.

DTE last year replaced key boiler parts at the plant about 40 miles south of Detroit. The EPA claims the project qualified as a "major modification," which should have forced the utility to install state-of-the-art pollution controls.

DTE acknowledged the "project may eventually prove to be a `major modification,'" Friedman wrote in a 12-page decision dated Aug. 23. "That determination, however, cannot be made until the completion of the first year for which such measurements are required."

Phone and email messages from The Associated Press were left Saturday with the EPA's regional office in Chicago and a DTE spokesman.

The dispute between government regulators and DTE has become familiar in the industry. Congress tightened air-quality standards years ago but allowed older power plants to delay new pollution controls until a utility performed a major overhaul. The EPA and utilities have butted heads over just what triggers the mandate.

DTE, for example, has insisted that the Unit 2 project was just routine maintenance and said there are plans to upgrade pollution equipment by 2014. The EPA didn't know what was happening there until it spotted an upbeat story in the Monroe Evening News, which carried the headline "Extreme Makeover: Power Plant Edition."

Monroe Unit 2 released 27,230 tons of sulfur dioxide and 8,205 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2009 -- the most of any coal-fired plant in Michigan, according to the EPA, and an undisputed source of air pollution. Coal is burned to heat water, which becomes steam. The steam then turns turbines to make electricity.

Unit 2, one of four in Monroe, is capable of providing power for more than 100,000 homes and businesses.


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