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WildEarth Guardians Files Suit to Defend Clean Air From Colorado Springs Coal-fired Power Plant

February 9, 2017
Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Additional contact:
Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, WildEarth Guardians, (505) 401-4180

Colorado Springs, CO—Moving to safeguard public health and clean air, WildEarth Guardians today filed suit against Colorado Springs Utilities over thousands of Clean Air Act violations at the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant.

“This massive coal-fired power plant is taking a tremendous toll on the health of the community,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time to confront the harmful pollution coming out of Martin Drake’s smokestacks and for Colorado Springs Utilities to acknowledge the need to move beyond coal.”

According to Colorado Springs Utilities’ own records submitted to the State of Colorado, the utility has regularly failed to monitor air pollution from the smokestacks of the coal-fired Martin Drake power plant, which is located in downtown Colorado Springs.

In late March of 2016, WildEarth Guardians put Colorado Springs Utilities on notice of its violations and the groups’ intent to file suit in federal court. The notice letter and the Utilities’ own monitoring reports are available online here >>

By law, power plants are required to continuously monitor opacity, or the thickness of air pollution, released from the smokestacks of their coal-fired power plants. Opacity is an indicator of particulate matter. Particulate matter includes soot, toxic metals, and droplets of acidic gases, and can have serious adverse health effects including asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks, and premature death.

Records from Colorado Springs Utilities show that in the last five years, their continuous opacity monitors have failed for a total of over 300 hours, violating the Clean Air Act more than 3,000 times.

“Just like we have speed limits on our roads to protect our safety, we have limits on pollution to safeguard our communities,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, Staff Attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “These violations represent a reckless disregard to the need for protecting Colorado Springs Utilities from Martin Drake’s dangerous air pollution.”

Under the Clean Air Act, polluters can be fined up to $37,500 per violation. Colorado Springs Utilities faces more than $100 million in fines for its violations.

“It’s time for Colorado Springs Utilities to stop turning its back on our clean air laws,” said Nichols. “Monitoring air pollution is critical to ensuring protection of public health; these lapses in measurements are a disturbing sign that people are in danger.”

Located in downtown Colorado Springs, the coal-fired Martin Drake power plant is the largest coal burning power plant in the Colorado Springs region and has been under fire for its impacts to local public health. The plant releases massive amounts of sulfur dioxide gas, which modeling data indicates is jeopardizing the health of the community. Although the plant burns coal, it is capable of burning natural gas.

Last fall, groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to require the Martin Drake plant to upgrade its sulfur dioxide pollution controls.

Colorado Springs Utilities and the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which is comprised of the City Council, has been under fire for continuing to operate the coal-fired power plant and spending millions to retrofit the 40 year-old power plant with modern pollution controls. Although the Board has taken steps to move toward retiring the aging coal-fired power plant, recent decisions indicate the plant is likely to operate and burn coal for another 20 years.

The plant is also one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide in Colorado. Martin Drake includes three coal-fired boilers and three smokestacks that spew 7,900 pounds of hydrochloric acid, 31 pounds of mercury, and other toxic chemicals every year.

Under the Clean Air Act, citizens, including citizen groups, can take legal action to stop clean air violations, impose fines, and protect public health.

WildEarth Guardians has previously successfully sued Xcel Energy over the company’s failure to continuously monitor opacity at its coal-fired power plant in north Denver. WildEarth Guardians also recently reached a legal agreement with Tri-State Generation and Transmission to retire coal-fired power plants in western Colorado.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Denver, seeks to prevent future Clean Air Act violations at Martin Drake and to compel Colorado Springs Utilities to upgrade its monitoring systems and pay fines. Guardians is being aided in its enforcement action by the litigation law firm of Coberly and Martinez, LLLP.