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Westar Settles Lawsuit Over Air Quality Regulations

The Kansas electric company Westar Energy Inc. recently announced that it has settled a federal lawsuit over air quality regulations in the Clean Air Act. According to Reuters, the company has agreed to spend $500 million dollars to help reduce air pollution from their Kansas coal-fired electric generating plant at the company's Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Marys, Kansas. The money will be spent to install pollution control equipment at its Jeffrey Energy Center, which is aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by approximately 78,600 tons annually.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a public statement about the settlement that says that Westar will pay a $3 million dollar civil penalty fine. The press release also indicates that Westar will spend $6 million dollars on environmental mitigation projects as well.

Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, was quoted in the DOJ's press release as saying, "This settlement will lower harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by thousands of tons each year, and will benefit air quality in Kansas and downwind areas." According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sulfur dioxide has an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. It also can react with other compounds in the air which can form small particles. These small particles can penetrate into the lungs which can cause/worsen diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis. It can also worsen existing heart disease.

This settlement by Westar is one the strictest imposed to date. Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was quoted by the DOJ's press release as saying,  "Today's settlement sets the most stringent limit for sulfur dioxide emissions ever imposed on a coal-fired power plant in a federal settlement. EPA is committed to protecting clean air for communities by making sure coal-fired power plants comply with the law."

Westar indicated that they would prefer to spend the money in order to clean up the environment instead of spending the money on litigation. Reuters quoted Bill Moore, Westar president and chief executive as saying, "The settlement calls for environmental investments and mitigation we would have eventually done anyway, and puts our dollars to work for the environment rather than being spent on expensive litigation."

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