Clean Air Villain of the Month

December 1999


It calls itself "America's Energy Partner," but American Electric Power (AEP) might more accurately be called "America's Egregious Polluter."

Facing federal and state law suits for allegedly violating clean air standards, AEP recently lashed out with a bizarre diatribe that suggested, among other things, that New Yorkers ought to be "forced" to buy new motor vehicles and "retire" existing ones.

This power polluter might want to think twice about referring to cars, since the Columbus, Ohio-based utility giant spews out half a million tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) a year -- an amount equivalent to more than 94 million new cars driven 12,000 miles each. (Only the Tennessee Valley Authority emits more NOx, and TVA is working to clean up its plants.) A recent report also identified AEP as the nation's single biggest source of toxic mercury pollution. It also ranks among the biggest sources of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.

Smoke billows from AEP's tall stacks in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia to pollute not only local communities, but also those located hundreds of miles away. Its economic and regional political clout is enormous: AEP is a holding company that includes several big Midwestern electric power companies as well as numerous coal companies. Recipients of AEP "donations" include the National Governors Association, such right-wing think tanks as the St. Louis-based Center for the Study of American Business and the Center for Energy and Economic Development, and seemingly "moderate" think tanks including the Brookings Institution and Resources for the Future.

AEP is no stranger to controversy when it comes to thumbing its nose at clean air controls. In the mid-1970s, with the nation in the throes of the Arab oil embargo, AEP ran Arab-bashing advertisements that urged relaxation of the Clean Air Act to permit more coal burning.

More recently, AEP has been a leader in efforts to block new clean air health standards and prevent use of modern pollution controls. In the process, AEP has not been reluctant to talk out of more than one side of its corporate mouth. For example, last year -- even while it was lobbying against an EPA cleanup plan on the grounds of being too costly -- AEP was telling Merrill Lynch that it could still flourish under the most stringent of cleanup requirements.

AEP was caught in another indiscretion when an e-mail from one of its officials went astray. The e-mail showed collusion with the governor of West Virginia against EPA's attempted cleanup. The e-mail counseled other utilities to "audibly grumble" about a plan -- drafted in collaboration with the utilities -- to be advanced by the governor.

We can think of no one more worthy of being dubbed our first "

Clean Air Villain of the Month