Columbus-based American Electric Power learned a pricey lesson today: Don’t F*$K with New York. The company, which delivers electricity all over the South, Appalachia, and the Midwest, settled a case today with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to operate coal-fired power plants with the proper pollution controls. When all is said and done, the settlement will have cost AEP $4.6 billion, almost 5 times the price paid by Exxon Mobil for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The news came as a shock to polluters across Ohio, who thought that the general rule of law was that everything was cool as long as the fence is high enough to keep the kids from playing Marco Polo in the vats of toxic waste, or taking bong-rips from the tops of the smokestacks. Mittal Steel, for instance, has been operating its plant on the Cuyahoga River for years without the proper air pollution controls, yet the company hasn’t been forced to pay a dime to clean up.
The difference in this case is that, unlike Mittal, AEP wasn’t just blowing dust and soot at working-class folks in Slavic Village. Instead, its plants in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia were sending pollution all the way to states like Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and New York. In New York City, acid rain from AEP plants was even eating away at the Statue of Liberty. You just can't piss on Ms. Liberty and think you'll get away with it.
In 1999, eight Atlantic states and a host of environmental groups joined forces with the U.S. EPA to sue the company. The case dragged on for eight years before today’s settlement. Included in the cost of the settlement is $60 million to help clean up land in the Shenandoah National Park and the water of the Chesapeake Bay, both of which were damaged by AEP’s pollution, as well as a request by the EPA to “please keep the hazardous waste in Ohio where it belongs.” -- Jared Klaus