A federal judge in Alabama has rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s argument on what triggers the installation of new pollution abatement equipment on old coal-fired power plants.

In an opinion issued June 7, Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins, U.S. District for the Northern District of Alabama, supported broad exemptions from the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act for coal-fired powerplant construction projects. Hopkins ruled that the Clean Air Act exempts projects that are considered "routine" for the utility industry. The judge also determined that for a construction project to trigger installation of additional pollution control equipment the improvements had to increase the plant’s maximum hourly emission rate, not simply the amount of time the plant can operate.

The opinion was a memorandum on correct legal tests and referred the question to mediation. If mediation is not successful, then a separate order will be issued.