Alabama Power Company will reduce emissions from three of the company’s coal-fired power plants and settle legal action that dates back to 1999, federal officials said.

Alabama Power will retire three coal-fired units and convert four more coal units to natural gas. Remaining coal units at three power plants must meet emissions standards, and the company agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and spend at least $1.5 million to install electric charging infrastructure for airport service vehicles and passenger cars.

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The action is a modification of a previous consent decree, reached in 2006 and settling portions of the EPA’s case against Alabama Power. The new agreement goes to the next level in attempting to further reduce air pollutants, primarily sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).

“This action secures reductions of harmful air pollution at Alabama Power Company’s coal-fired power plants across the state,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This is important progress toward our commitment to cut emissions from the largest sources, and means cleaner air and improved public health for communities across Alabama.”

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Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said the company maintains it never violated the Clean Air Act, but agreed to the settlement in the interest of ending the 16-year legal action.

“We continue to believe that our company has always met or done better than the standards set by the federal government to protect the environment,” Szajderman said. “Nevertheless we are happy to close this case while preserving generating units that are vital to serving the needs of our customers.”

Szajderman said the plants affected would be: Plant Gorgas in Walker County, where coal Units 6 and 7 will end up permanently retired; Plant Barry in Mobile County, where Unit 3 will close and Units 1 and 2 will convert to natural gas-fired reserve units, and Plant Greene County, where both units will switch from coal to natural gas.

Some of those changes were already on the table, Szajderman said, but this agreement would cement them.

The original legal action ended up filed by the Department of Justice for the EPA in 1999, saying Alabama Power had violated the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act. The government charged Alabama Power made modifications to existing coal-fired plants that resulted in increased emissions without seeking appropriate permits and installing proper pollution controls.

Alabama Power contends that its work on the Miller, Gorgas, Greene County and Barry steam plants was simply routine maintenance and the facilities were not subject to a New Source Review under the law.

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