DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that CMS Energy Corp. will undertake an estimated $1 billion program to cut emissions from five coal-fired power plants in Michigan to settle air pollution complaints.
The government said that the utility's Consumers Energy subsidiary agreed to a plan to cut 46,500 tons of sulfur dioxide and other emissions annually from plants in Essexville, Luna Pier, Muskegon and West Olive.
The Jackson-based company also will pay $10.5 million in fines and remediation expenditures, the government said. The agreement, which still needs federal court approval, settles the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's claims filed in 2007 and 2008 that CMS Energy was violating the Clean Air Act.
"Today's settlement will bring cleaner air to residents in Michigan by removing tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollution from the atmosphere," Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch said in a statement. "This agreement will render benefits to communities far into the future with pollution-reduction projects that will improve public health and help restore natural resources downwind of the plants."
Company spokesman Dan Bishop called the deal a prudent business decision that helps all parties concerned.
"This settlement provides certainty for Consumers Energy, benefits to customers by economically resolving these issues, and significant environmental improvements for Michigan," Bishop told The Associated Press in an email.
A leading environmental advocate said it was reserving judgment on the deal and whether it's good for the public.
"The question we have is whether more could have been done if there had been more public discussion about this," including phasing out coal-fired plants, said Ann Woiwode, Michigan director of the Sierra Club. "It would have been potentially more productive to look into how Consumers could move away from fossil fuels instead of taking steps leading to additional investments in them."
In a statement, CMS Energy said the agreement "does not include any admission of wrongdoing" by the company. It said the $1 billion expenditure is part of a broader $2 billion plan to upgrade its power generation system in the state. The company provides electrical or natural gas to 6.5 million of Michigan's 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.
The agreement "concludes over five years of negotiation with the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice and fully resolves these issues with the government," said John Russell, Consumers Energy's chief executive. "We're moving forward with our plan to continue to improve air quality, move to a cleaner generation portfolio, and provide Michigan homes and businesses with safe, affordable and reliable energy."
According to the government, the measures under the agreement will eliminate about 38,400 tons per year of sulfur dioxide and 8,100 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions annually. It said the pollution reductions will come from the installation and upgrading of pollution control systems. The utility also is taking several coal-fired units out of operation, the government said.
The parties filed the settlement in U.S. District Court in Detroit. There is a 30-day comment period before the court can give it final approval.