MONROE, Mich. —
A year ago, DTE turned off Unit 2 for three months to replace boiler parts and improve the plant's efficiency. The EPA said it knew nothing about the project until it read a story in The Monroe Evening News, headlined: "Extreme Makeover: Power Plant Edition," which described the work and its benefit to the local economy.
The utility has insisted it was nothing more than "routine maintenance" that is standard in the industry. The EPA, however, said it was a modification that easily required state-of-the-art technology to eliminate virtually all emissions at a plant open since the 1970s.
Capturing those emissions would be the equivalent of taking 371,000 heavy-duty trucks and 1 million passenger cars off the road, said Lyle Chinkin, an air-quality expert and president of Sonoma Technology in Petaluma, Calif.
To bolster its case, the government turned to Joel Schwartz, an expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, who predicts there will be 90 to 100 premature deaths a year among people exposed to pollution from the Monroe plant. DTE dismisses those as "alarmist assertions."
While the case moves through court, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has told the utility it can keep Unit 2 operating at or below the level that existed before last year's project.
DTE spokesman John Austerberry said what gets lost is the company's decade-long accomplishment of making other parts of the Monroe power plant cleaner. "It's not like changing a muffler on a car," he said. "These are huge construction projects. It takes years to complete."