Feds sue Michigan utility over coal-fired plant

MONROE, Mich. (AP) -- The federal government filed a lawsuit last Thursday against DTE Energy Co., accusing the utility of modifying a major coal-fired plant without permits and the best equipment to control pollution.

The lawsuit asks a judge to consider shutting down Monroe Unit 2 until it complies with clean-air laws. Fines could be as high as $37,500 a day. In response, the utility said the government is wrong and no new permit was required.

The lawsuit is an "absurd and overly aggressive interpretation of environmental regulations. None of the work done ... will cause an increase of emissions," spokesman John Austerberry said.

If the plant is shut down, it would cost $250,000 a day to get a new source of electricity, he said.

The power plant is in Monroe County, 40 miles south of Detroit. The lawsuit says DTE modified it last spring without using the best equipment to control emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which come from burning coal.

The utility informed state officials about the project a day before it started, according to the lawsuit.

"All plants have to shut down for routine maintenance," Austerberry said. "While there was a lot of work, the components are identical or functionally equivalent to the original equipment."

He said emission scrubbers are in place on units 3 and 4 and under construction on units 1 and 2.

In Michigan, the federal government gives the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment authority to handle air-quality permits. Deputy Director Jim Sygo said he was aware of the lawsuit but not the details. He declined further comment.

Published: Mon, Aug 9, 2010