What's at Stake
If existing coal plants are modified to allow them to continue operating, the Clean Air Act requires them to install modern pollution controls.
When the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the law allowed many existing coal plants, oil refineries and other facilities to continue running without having to install the best available pollution controls required for new facilities. The theory was that these aging facilities would shut down quickly in favor of new, modern plants. If those existing plants were instead modified to allow them to continue operating, the law requires them to install modern pollution controls.
Unfortunately, this approach backfired as coal operators routinely skirt the law by erroneously labeling the rebuilding of their aging coal plants as nothing more than “routine maintenance.”
Detroit Edison (DTE) is a prime example—the company made multi-million dollar changes at several coal plants in southeastern Michigan without installing new pollution control technology, as the law requires.
The Department of Justice filed suit against Detroit Edison for such misbehavior at its Monroe plant. Earthjustice is supporting the government’s action on behalf of Sierra Club, which amended its complaint to allege similar law breaking at other DTE facilities: Trenton Channel and Belle River. While the district court judge ruled against our claim on the Monroe plant, we sought to appeal that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which had already reversed a prior unfavorable ruling from the district court judge in this case.