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To get the lights back on in Florida, the US government is letting power plants break pollution laws

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Florida power plants just got a federal blessing to pollute as much as they need to get electricity back to Floridians.
By Zoë Schlanger
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Millions of people are currently without power across Florida after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The US Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to all power plants in the state of Florida on Sunday (Sept. 10) granting them permission to temporarily ignore limits on pollution while they try to fix that.

The agency is “allowing them to operate without meeting all pollution controls in order to maintain the supply of electricity to customers and critical facilities across the state as a result of Hurricane Irma,” the EPA wrote in a press release. They’ll be able to pollute without limit for the next 15 days, until the exemption ends on September 26, 2017.

The power plants won’t be penalized for any excess air pollution caused by running the plants at “high output levels,” nor for shutting down or bypassing built-in air-pollution controls. The EPA will also temporarily lift penalties for discharging wastewater into state and federal waterways.

The companies will still have to report to the EPA how much pollution they produce in excess of their permits “as soon as practicable,” so the government agency will know the total additional pollution released in the wake of Irma later.

The EPA also hinted at plans to grant some type of exemption from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, noting a “statewide order” will be issued regarding the water pollution law that would “help ports and other facilities get back into operation as quickly as possible.”

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