UNITED STATES v. CINERGY CORP. (October 12, 2010)

Cinergy Corp. (and its affiliates) owns several electric power plants in the Midwest. Years ago, the U.S. EPA charged Cinergy with violations of the Clean Air Act at several of its facilities. Specifically, the agency alleged that the company made "major" modifications that resulted in increased nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions without obtaining a permit. In an earlier appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that the federal regulation at issue required emissions to be measured on an annual, rather than an hourly, basis. On remand to Judge McKinney (S.D. Ind.), the case was tried. A jury found that four of the alleged modifications were likely to have increased the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide annual emissions and should have been permitted. Cinergy appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Posner and Rovner reversed. The Court addressed the verdict with respect to the two pollutants separately. With respect to sulfur dioxide, Indiana's implementation plan in effect at the time of the modifications did use hourly capacity rather than annual emissions to determine the necessity of a permit. This was true even though: the federal statute and regulation defined it otherwise, Indiana had agreed to revise its plan, and Indiana had actually adopted appropriate amendments to its plan -- but it failed to submit the plan for approval for several years. The Court concluded that Cinergy could not be held liable when it complied with the approved Indiana plan. With respect to nitrogen oxide, the parties agree that the annual emissions standard governs. Here, Cinergy attacks the agency's experts and the formula they used to predict those annual emissions. In effect, the expert witnesses testified that an increase in capacity would result in an equal increase in generation and pollutant emissions. The Court concluded that that formula was only appropriate in the case of a baseload generating plant, which is in almost continuous operation. It did not take into consideration the operational differences between baseload, cycling, and peaking plants. The plant at issue is a cycling plant and operated on a regular, although not continuous, schedule. Although there are methods for predicting annual emissions from a cycling plant, the Court concluded that a remand was not necessary. The agency conceded that it could not prove its case if the expert testimony was disallowed.