Nov. 13--PEORIA -- The clock is now officially counting down on the closure of the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant.
Senior U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade approved a settlement agreement Wednesday of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups against Vistra Energy under the Clean Air Act in 2013. The terms of the agreement include shuttering the plant by the end of 2022, and providing $8.6 million in funds for workforce development and for public health and environmental projects to benefit communities in the region.
Within the next three months, the environmental groups, which include the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council and the Respiratory Health Association, will develop a plan for using that $8.6 million settlement on local projects. Some $1.7 million of that will go for job training or retraining for employees at the plant and others in the area, while nearly $6.9 million will go toward environmental and public health projects.
A process to submit project proposals is expected to be rolled out next week.
"The judge's approval of this agreement today is a huge win for impacted residents who have voiced their concerns about coal pollution for years and advocated for a clean energy future for Peoria that will include and benefit those residents previously left out," said Ryan Hidden, the Peorian who served as organizing representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, in a prepared statement. "As other coal communities are blind-sided with abrupt plant retirements, this agreement offers key components of a responsible transition plan beyond coal, with adequate time to prepare for closure and funding to support new clean energy investments and workforce development."
J.C. Kibbey, a clean-energy advocate with the NRDC, called the settlement a chance to help inform state policy and suggested it could serve as a road map for other communities facing similar issues with coal power plants.
"The people of Peoria and the surrounding region are the winners today," said Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the group that represented the Sierra Club and the RHA. "They will gain cleaner air and better public health once this highly polluting coal plant is retired in 2022. ELPC is proud of our legal work as outside counsel for the Sierra Club and the RHA."
Vistra CEO Curt Morgan said reaching the settlement was the best choice under the circumstances.
"This lawsuit, which has been ongoing for the past six years, is indicative of the difficult environmental, legal, and political challenges our coal plants face in Illinois," Morgan said in a prepared statement. "While closure announcements are always difficult, the future of the Edwards plant has been in question for years and this settlement provides some level of certainty for these employees over the coming years. We felt the best option for our employees and the company was to agree to this settlement to resolve the case rather than risk an uncertain outcome at trial."
The case dates to when the plant was under Ameren ownership. Dynegy bought the plant in 2013, and Vistra merged with Dynegy last year.
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