In the largest environmental enforcement settlement in U.S. history, Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power has agreed to cut 813,000 tons of air pollutants at 16 of its coal plants annually at an estimated cost of more than $4.6 billion. AEP will also pay a $15-million penalty and spend $60 million on projects to mitigate the impact of past emissions.

The settlement, made public Oct. 9, resolves a lawsuit filed against AEP in 1999 alleging that the company violated the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act.

The emissions cuts will occur at 16 coal-fired plants in five states. When installed, the pollution controls will cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 79% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 69%. "Today's settlement fulfills the best hopes for the Clean Air Act," says Ronald Tenpas, acting assistant attorney general for Dept. of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division at an Oct. 9 briefing. "The AEP settlement will have an unprecedented impact on air quality in the eastern United States."

AEP says it has already spent billions on retrofits at its plants and that it admits no violations of the law. "Since November 1999, when the initial complaint was filed by the government, we have remained firm in our belief that we operated our plants in compliance with the New Source Review provisions," says Michael G. Morris, AEP's chairman, in a statement. "That remains our position today."