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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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