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7th Circuit finds for energy plant

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a decision out of Indiana regarding a claim by the Environmental Protection Agency that Cinergy Corp. was wrong to modify its coal-burning plants without first obtaining a permit from the EPA.

In a suit older than a decade, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, had found in favor of the U.S. government, but the  7th Circuit disagreed in U.S.A. and State of New York v. Cinergy Corporation, et al., Nos. 09-3344, 09-3350, 09-3351.

The EPA had filed suit over permits needed for modifications. At issue was whether the permits were required if the hourly increase in emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide had not increased, even if the annual amounts had increased due to more productivity from the modifications, and therefore more hours of production.

The District Court rejected Cinergy’s argument that because the hourly emissions rate hadn’t changed, even if the annual rate increased, they didn’t need the permit. The 7th Circuit agreed in an interlocutory appeal.

After the 7th Circuit’s decision on the interlocutory appeal, the case continued in the District Court with a jury trial, “although a case of such complexity, rife with technical issues, is not an ideal one for a jury to decide,” wrote 7th Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner.

Following the trial, where 14 modification projects at three plants were at issue, the jury found liability with respect to four of the projects, all at Cinergy’s plant in Wabash and all undertaken between 1989 and 1992.

However, at the time these projects took place, the Indiana standard had not yet been updated to reflect the Clean Air Act.

“The Clean Air Act does not authorize the imposition of sanctions for conduct that complies with a State Implementation Plan that the EPA has approved. See 42 U.S.C. § 7413(a)(1). The EPA approved Indiana’s plan with exceptions that did not include Section 43, thinking that Indiana would submit a revised plan which the EPA would then approve. Which is what happened – only it took 12 years,” Judge Posner wrote.

“The agency’s frustration is understandable,” regarding the EPA, he continued. “It embraced the actual-emissions standard, which for the reasons explained in our previous opinion and repeated earlier in this one makes better economic sense, before section 43 was presented for its approval. It should have disapproved it; it didn’t; but it can’t impose the good standard on a plant that implemented the bad when the bad one was authorized by a state implementation plan that the EPA had approved. The blunder was unfortunate but the agency must live with it.

“The judgment of the district court must therefore be reversed so far as the sulphur dioxide emissions are concerned,” he added. “With respect to the emissions of nitrogen oxide, the parties agree that the actual-emissions standard controls, and the only question we need answer is whether the district court was right to allow the EPA’s expert witnesses to testify that the modifications made would result in an increase in annual emissions beyond what the state implementation plan permitted.”

He emphasized the term “would,” as opposed to “did,” because the permit must be obtained before a modification can be made so the effect on emissions is a prediction rather than an observation, he wrote.

Because the Wabash plant is old, the formula used by the EPA experts to determine emissions based on baseload numbers as opposed to cycling numbers, would not apply to the Wabash facility because it does not operate at full capacity.

“In fairness to the district judge, we note that Cinergy didn’t argue this point to him with any clarity; this is a common pitfall in a scattershot approach to litigation. The point isn’t even clear in Cinergy’s appeal briefs,” Judge Posner wrote.

 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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