March 12, 2013

DTE Energy Sued in Federal Court for More Than 1,400 Clean Air Act Violations at Four Michigan Coal Plants

DTE’s Aging Coal Plants Pose Major Public Health Threat to Michigan Communities
Contact: Emily Rosenwasser, Emily.Rosenwasser@sierraclub.org312-251-1680 x119

DETROIT - Today, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against DTE Energy Company and its subsidiaries, DTE Electric Company and Detroit Edison Company. The complaint cited more than 1,400 violations of the federal Clean Air Act from emissions at DTE’s Belle River, River Rouge, St. Clair and Trenton Channel coal-fired power plants. Each of the coal plants listed in the suit threatens the health and safety of Michigan families across the state by emitting dangerous pollutants, including particulate matter, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

“DTE’s coal fleet is outdated and out of compliance, and southeast Michigan families deserve better than dirty air in our communities,” said Patrick Geans, Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign organizer in Detroit. “According to a Michigan Environmental Council report, Michigan families pay $1.5 billion in health costs associated with burning coal, including asthma attacks, heart disease, and cancer. Every resident in our state has the right to clean air, and DTE’s dependence on coal-fired power robs Michigan families of that right.”

DTE Energy, the largest utility company in Michigan, draws 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. Three of the four coal plants cited in the lawsuit are more than 50-years-old, lacking modern pollution controls as required by federal law. According to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, the Belle River, River Rouge, St. Clair and Trenton Channel coal-fired power plants contribute to 267 deaths, 434 heart attacks, and 4,180 asthma attacks each year collectively.[1]

According to a 2012 Summer Energy Appraisal by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), DTE consumers were the hardest hit by rising energy costs, with their monthly bills rising from an average of $67.81 to $76.97 – a 13.5 percent increase over last year. The rate increase comes as a result of the increased cost of importing coal from other states.

“Today's legal action is the latest in our campaign to hold DTE Energy accountable for skirting their legal obligations and operating one of the nation’s oldest coal fleets,” said Tiffany Hartung, Beyond Coal campaign representative for the Sierra Club in Michigan. “When coal-dependent utilities like DTE realize that they can no longer pollute Michigan communities for free, the burden of operating old coal plants causes their outdated business model to crumble. Smart utility companies are preparing ahead for a transition beyond coal. When it comes to DTE, we must push them to do right by Michigan communities.”

While the rising cost of coal in Michigan has already directly impacted ratepayers, clean sources of energy like wind have become a more viable and affordable energy choice for Michigan families. A 2013 MPSC report demonstrated that the cost of a new renewable energy project is now cheaper than a new coal fired power plant, and that the state’s current renewable energy standard has generated at least $1.8 billion in economic activity through 2012.[2] Michigan’s burgeoning clean energy job sector ranks fifth nationally in terms of job growth.[3]  

“Michigan communities are ready to leave coal in the past and move forward to exciting, job-creating developments in efficiency and clean energy,” said Geans. “DTE is a bad neighbor to southeast Michigan, and it is time for the company to embrace clean energy. It is DTE’s responsibility to collaborate with community members, public officials and important local stakeholders to build a responsible transition away from coal in southeast Michigan.”

The basis for the violations is data collected by DTE at its own facilities using electronic continuous opacity monitoring systems. DTE reports data from its monitoring systems quarterly to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). In an effort to investigate and protect Michigan’s air, the Sierra Club requested the data from MDEQ, which revealed egregious violations of the Clean Air Act by exceeding opacity limits allowed in pollution permits on numerous occasions between 2007 through 2011.

To view the complaint filed to U.S. District Court, please click here: