Finding The Good News

Stanton Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pa.
If it feels like good news is hard to come by these days, that's because it is. It's not on the front pages and it's not on TV. In a quest for something positive, Sunday Morning correspondent Tracy Smith went to the Library of Congress, which has the largest collection of small-town newspapers.

The first story she found comes from an unlikely source: Dominion Power Company's Chesterfield coal-burning power plant in Chester, Va.

Tom Farrell was running the plant in 1998 when he decided to get some fresh air.

"I knew more in my brain it was the right thing to do," he said. "It was inevitable that we were gonna clean these plants up."

The E.P.A. had warned that coal-fired power companies had to decrease the amount of pollutants released into the air or face penalties. Other companies fought it, but not Dominion; the company voluntarily made changes before the E.P.A. made it. Farrell said the company's lawyers wanted to fight the regulations, but he convinced them that complying might be a better idea.

"We all live here," he said. "We all have families. We all have kids. It was the right thing to do for our state and our neighbors."

Dominion started installing pollution-control equipment throughout its system. Its Chesterfield plant is still being updated but air quality improvements are already measurable.

"We're not done yet," Farrell said. "It'll be a lot better. It'll be down overall, 90 percent reduction all the way across our system and that'll be by the end of this decade."

Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality says the air quality in Richmond has improved by 40 percent, in large part because of Dominion's changes. And the city is poised to be taken off the E.P.A.'s list of areas with the highest smog levels.

"These things work," Farrell said. "I mean, if you put in pollution control equipment, you can remove the nitrogen oxides, you can remove the sulfur dioxides, and you can remove the mercury. They're expensive but they work."

Total cost for the project was $1.6 billion, but Farrell says Dominion's stockholders are breathing easier. Cleaning up is actually costing less than fighting the E.P.A. Customers are paying the same they were paying in 1998, Farrell said.

"Well, nice companies finish first," Farrell said. "There's more coal in the United States than Saudi Arabia has oil. The majority of electricity comes out of coal today and it's gonna be that way for a long time. We can clean it up. We can make it better."