PITTSBURGH (AP) — A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit Tuesday against a western Pennsylvania power plant, ruling that two women who live nearby can sue over alleged fly ash pollution even though the plant meets state and federal air pollution standards.
The women, Kristie Bell and Joan Luppe, sued on behalf of all residents who live within a mile of the Cheswick Generating Station plant, which is about 15 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. They contend it emits fly ash and other waste particles onto their properties and allegedly contains cancer-causing chemicals. The women allege that the pollution was a nuisance, the plant was negligent in creating it and was effectively trespassing on their property whenever the waste accumulated.
Attorneys for the plant countered that the lawsuit was attempting to toughen air pollution standards without properly going through Congress or regulatory agencies.
Last fall, a federal judge in Pittsburgh ruled in favor of the plant. He said that allowing the women to sue over how the plant acted when it was meeting Clean Air Act standards would make it impossible for energy providers to know whether their actions are legal. At most, such allegations should be handled as pollution permit violations under federal law, the judge ruled.
But a three-judge 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled unanimously to reverse that decision Tuesday. The federal Clean Air Act regulations are meant to impose minimum standards only, they wrote, adding that federal law doesn't preclude citizens from suing if their properties are affected.
"We see nothing in the Clean Air Act to indicate Congress intended to pre-empt" such lawsuits, the judges wrote in a 23-page opinion.