NRDC Challenges Utility Officials to Come Clean

WASHINGTON (November 2, 2006) -- In oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week, attorneys for the electric power industry claimed they didn't know until 1999 that the government had shifted its legal position to requiring aging coal-fired plants to install state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment. But industry documents released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveal a different story.

In fact, since the early 1980s, industry officials have been fully aware of the Environmental Protection Agency requirements to clean up the power plants -- but simply ignored them while the plants continued to emit harmful amounts of air pollutions known to cause asthma, heart and lung disease, and premature death.

The documents demolish the industry's central defense in the case of Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp. , which was argued before the Supreme Court yesterday, said John Walke, a senior attorney and the Clean Air Program director at NRDC.

"Duke Energy and other utility industry defendants are attempting to hoodwink the Supreme Court," Walke said. "These smoking gun industry documents repeatedly contradict the fairy tale being peddled by utility companies and their attorneys."

In court this week, industry attorneys claimed that EPA launched clean air enforcement cases against coal-fired power plants in 1999 based upon new legal interpretations. The attorneys argued that until then, they and the EPA had been in agreement on the meaning of the law since 1980. As one Duke Energy attorney told the court yesterday: "everyone in the industry…and outside the industry" since 1980 shared that legal interpretation.

Yet the documents -- from Duke Energy, other utility company defendants, and utility industry trade associations and lawyers, and dating to the early 1980s -- flatly contradict the account before the Supreme Court.

"The documents reveal that the power plant companies and their attorneys were fully aware of the same longstanding EPA legal interpretations that uphold the government's enforcement cases," Walke said.

Throughout the cases, utility defense attorneys have waged a relentless campaign to keep these and other potentially damning documents from public view.

"Why the cover-up?" asked Walke. "Make the rest of the documents public and let the American people decide. These utility companies have a responsibility to their shareholders, ratepayers, and communities whose air they pollute to come clean with the truth and to clean up their harmful pollution."

A side-by-side comparison of Duke Energy's own words reveals the industry's deceptions. (Click here to download NRDC's comparison of the shifting utility industry positions, and here to download the original industry source materials.)