TXU, Alcoa and Feds Attempt End Run Around Clean Air Act

The federal government, TXU and Alcoa have cut a back-room deal that would circumvent the consent decree concerning the electric power generators at the Alcoa smelter near Rockdale, TX.

The consent decree requires Alcoa and its successors to retrofit existing power units at Alcoa's Rockdale facility, replace the units with new, clean technology, or shut them down. Alcoa had elected to pursue the replacement option, but has fallen severely behind schedule and will miss the legal deadline. TXU has a power plant named Sandow 4 on the Alcoa site, and wants to step in for Alcoa to build the replacement units that Alcoa had agreed to construct.

This week's secret deal was struck without the involvement or consent of the local environmental and citizen groups (Environmental Defense, Public Citizen and Neighbors for Neighbors) that were parties to the original 2002 lawsuit and resulting consent decree. These local groups object to both the process and the substance of the proposed deal.

A motion to codify this settlement was made before U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks by the federal government, TXU and Alcoa, without the involvement or approval of Environmental Defense, Public Citizen or Neighbors for Neighbors.

"This is a shady, back-room deal, and we will ask Judge Sparks to deny it," said Environmental Defense regional director Jim Marston. "TXU, Alcoa and the government negotiated this secret settlement without including the very groups that brought the suit and signed the consent decree. Judge Sparks has followed the letter of the law in this case, and we will ask him to do so once again."

Alcoa has not met the requirements of the consent decree. Yet approval of this deal would allow TXU to build a new plant (Sandow 5) at the Rockdale facility that is even dirtier than the other coal plants the company has proposed in Texas. Not only would this plant not be the cleanest plant in the country (a marketing claim TXU has made about its planned coal plants), but it wouldn't even be the cleanest plant in Milam county.

The secret deal is being touted by EPA as better than the Alcoa consent decree. In fact, the deal between EPA and TXU is much worse than what would otherwise be required by the existing consent decree. The language of the consent decree is being twisted to allow TXU to construct a new unit under an old permit issued to Alcoa that does not require today's best pollution control technology.

"When you buy property from someone, you have to honor that property's prior deed restrictions," said Marston. "TXU knew about this agreement beforehand, and chose to proceed down this risky legal road anyway. And now they're acting like they're being victimized by the law when they're simply being asked to follow it."

The secret deal would not require TXU to use the same pollution control technology at the new unit that the company plans to use on the plant right next door (Sandow 4). There is no technical reason why TXU cannot build a cleaner plant on this site.

"Another day, another attempt by TXU to skirt the law," Marston said. "Alcoa agreed to these terms, and TXU is trying to change the rules and avoid its obligations under the Clean Air Act."

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