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May 28, 2014

Power plant becomes a model for cleaner operation

HOMER CITY, Pa. (AP) — A massive coal-fired power plant in western Pennsylvania is turning from one of the worst polluters in the country to a model for how such a facility can clean up its act.

Homer City Generating Station is expected to make the transformation in a few years. When it does, it will end four decades of nearly limitless pollution from two of its units that had long escaped regulation.

Three years ago the plant was the first to sue the Obama administration over a rule to force it to reduce its sulfur dioxide pollution, arguing it would spike electricity prices and cause "immediate and devastating" consequences. None of those dire predictions came to pass, and the Supreme Court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's rule in the case initiated by the plant.

The story of the Homer City plant reflects the precarious position of older coal-fired plants these days, squeezed between cheap and plentiful natural gas and a string of environmental rules the Obama administration has targeted at coal, which supplies about 40 percent of the nation's electricity.

The latest regulation, the first proposal to curb earth-warming carbon dioxide from power plants, is due next week and will pose yet another challenge to coal-fired power plants. Dozens of coal-fueled units have already announced they would close in the face of new rules.

Homer City also shows how political and economic rhetoric sometimes doesn't match reality. Despite claims by Republicans and industry critics that the Obama administration's regulations will shut down coal-fired power plants, Homer City survived — partly because it bought itself time by tying up the regulation in courts. Even environmental groups that applaud each coal plant closing and protested Homer City's pollution now say the facility is setting a benchmark for air pollution control that other coal plants should follow, even if it takes decades.

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