Clean Air Villain of the Month

July 2000


(Washington, D.C. July 6, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award for July to the Cinergy electric power holding company based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cinergy earned the dubious distinction by raising the specter of brownouts related to cleanup of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution from its coal-burning plants in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana after stalling cleanup for several years. In the process, Cinergy appears to be trying to displace its cross-state rival, American Electric Power, as the Midwest's most notorious polluter.

Cinergy, which includes Cincinnati Gas & Electric (Ohio), Union Light, Heat & Power (Kentucky), Lawrenceburg Gas (Indiana), and PSI Energy (Indiana), cited the brownout threat after a federal appeals court upheld a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to require a major NOx cleanup in 19 states, including those with Cinergy plants.

"Utilities will not be able to avoid taking power plants out of service in the summer to do retrofits," said a Cinergy spokesman, arguing that would lead to power shortages. The spokesman, according to theCincinnati Enquirer,charged that the EPA plan "had little to do with pollution and more to do with economic development" in the Northeast.

Ironically, nearly three years ago Cinergy announced a commitment to reduce its NOx by two-thirds. Its president and CEO, James Rogers, pledged at the time to a "constructive, common-sense approach" to deal with the regional smog problem. He added that the company would achieve its goals "through a combination of power plant modifications and emissions trading once a regional trading system is established."

Since then, however, Cinergy has done little except fight creation of the conditions that would have enabled it to meet its own commitment. (Cinergy is part of an industry group that has sued to block or delay the cleanup.) Had the company acted three years ago, it would have been well on its way to meeting the required NOx reductions and wouldn't have to be threatening to turn off the lights next summer.

By contrast, American Electric Power, based in Columbus, announced June 21 that it would install modern NOx controls on its giant Gavin plant in southeast Ohio. AEP said the pollution controls would be up and running by next summer. Significantly, AEP did not threaten brownouts.

Cinergy's reaction to the court decision was somewhat surprising because the company had been trying to earn a more progressive reputation by urging other power companies to consider cleanup of multiple air pollutants. It's almost as if the thinkers there decided to take the summer off.