United States v. DTE Energy Co., No. 11-2328 (6th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
The Clean Air Act New Source Review program forbids construction of new pollution sources without a permit, 42 U.S.C. 7475. Operators of major pollutant-emitting sources who plan construction must make a preconstruction projection of the increase in emissions following construction, to determine whether the project constitutes a “major modification,” requiring a permit. DTE planned on replacing 2,000 square feet of tubing, the economizer, and large sections of reheater piping; installing a new nine-ton device that provides voltage that creates the electromagnetic field needed for the rotor to produce electricity; and refurbishing boiler feedwater pumps at its power plant. The project required 83 days and $65 million. DTE performed required calculations and projected an emissions increase of 3,701 tons per year of sulfur dioxide and 4,096 tons per year of nitrogen oxides. Under the regulations, an increase of 40 tons per year of either substance is significant. DTE determined that the increase fell under the demand growth exclusion. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality took no action and construction began. The U.S. EPA filed notice of violation. The district court granted DTE summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. While the regulations allow operators to undertake projects without having EPA second-guess their projections, EPA is not categorically prevented from challenging blatant violations until after modifications are made.