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Area's three power plants foresee no problem meeting new rules

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tough new limits on emissions of mercury and other airborne toxins from coal-fired power plants, prompting an outcry from the producers of electricity nationwide -- but not those in the Buffalo area.

The new regulations should pose no problem for NRG Corp.'s Huntley Station in the Town of Tonawanda or its facility in Dunkirk, a company spokesman said. AES Corp's coal-fired power plant in Somerset won't be troubled by the new rules, either, the plant manager said.

The local companies say they have been years ahead of the game in installing technology to reduce emissions. NRG, for example, has invested about $300 million since 2006 on clean-air improvements at its two local plants.

"The controls we have installed today already meet the EPA proposals for mercury and air toxins," said David Gaier, communications manager.

The state-of-the-art environmental control systems at the two plants, in operation since the end of 2009, reduce total emissions of sulfur dioxide by 87 percent. Nitrous oxide emissions were cut 87 percent, while mercury output fell by more than 90 percent, Gaier said.

The company's investments result from a 2005 agreement with the state, which had filed suit three years earlier. Then-State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer argued that the Huntley and Dunkirk plants account for more than 21 percent of the nitrogen oxide emitted by power plants in the state and 38 percent of the sulfur dioxide, making them among the state's top polluters.

In Niagara County, the AES plant in Somerset is equipped with the most modern equipment to prevent toxic emissions.

"AES Somerset is one of the cleanest and most efficient coal fired power plants in the United States and is well-positioned to meet the proposed rule," said Peter Bajc, the plant manager.

The EPA rule -- on which the agency has been working for 20 years -- would require coal-fired power plants around the country to install "scrubbers" and other technology to cut emissions dramatically.

"Such controls are extraordinarily costly with profound impacts on electricity supply and price, and job creation," the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a leading industry group, said in a statement.

But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the regulations.

"With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks," Jackson said.

The American Lung Association also lauded the proposed regulation.

"Without these standards, toxic pollution will continue filling our lungs, and more people will suffer and even die unnecessarily," said Charles D. Connor, the group's president and CEO.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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