July 15, 2015 / 7:30 PM / 4 years ago

Iowa utility agrees to phase out seven coal plants in settlement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Sierra Club said on Wednesday that an Iowa utility has agreed to phase out seven coals plants in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency, the state and the environmental group.

Alliant Energy Corp subsidiary Interstate Power and Light agreed to install pollution controls at two of its largest coal-fired power plants, and either retire or convert the five remaining plants to natural gas.

Interstate also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1.1 million to resolve claims it violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The Sierra Club joined the lawsuit along with the state of Iowa, the EPA and Justice Department as co-plaintiffs.

“The days of coal-fired power plants putting Americans at risk are coming to an end,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club’s executive director. “In Iowa and across the country, people are demanding clean air and clean water and they are winning.”

The group’s Beyond Coal campaign has focused on legal settlements to target some of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired plants. With the latest agreement, Sierra Club said it has helped shuttered 200 coal plants.

Alliant will spend about $620 million to install pollution controls and another $6 million on environmental mitigation projects, including solar energy installations, replacement of coal-fired boilers, and installation of anaerobic digesters, which capture greenhouse gases from livestock manure.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement, said the settlement also reflects the agency’s focus on cracking down on the country’s biggest polluters.

Sierra Club’s Brune said the agreement provides a model for other communities “as they demand and realize a 100 percent clean energy future.”

But some analysts said the success of Sierra Club and its allies to shutter coal plants has relied on the availability of cheap natural gas as an alternative.

While Alex Trebath, a senior analyst at the Breakthrough, a research institute, said he was impressed with the environmental group’s success, he had some doubts.

“Where I don’t agree with the Sierra Club is that we need to aim for 100 percent renewables. I think what makes it so successful is that we have an alternative to coal, which is clean natural gas.”

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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