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Conservation Advocates Seek EPA's Help to Clean Up Washington Coal Plant

Biggest polluter in state getting free pass to dump mercury, other pollutants
November 3, 2009
Seattle, WA — 

Conservation and energy groups today filed a petition with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking the agency to object to the air pollution permit for TransAlta Corp.'s coal-burning power plant in Centralia. They are taking this step because Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency recently renewed Canadian-based TransAlta's permit, ignoring state and federal clean air laws that protect people, property and natural resources. 

The renewed permit contains no mercury or global warming controls and fails to require the best controls for haze-pollution over Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades National Parks, as well as Goat Rocks Wilderness and many other forest, wilderness and recreational areas throughout the region. Federal law requires these areas to have the cleanest, best-protected air quality.

"Southwest Clean Air has failed to protect Washington and the region's residents from air pollution that is harming our children, contaminating our national parks, and warming and damaging our climate, said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, the public interest law firm representing the conservation and energy groups. "EPA intervention is necessary to provide adequate control of harmful pollutants."

The EPA recently released a draft finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." Additionally, Governor Chris Gregoire earlier this year found carbon dioxide to be an "air contaminant" that is endangering public health and welfare. This permit's lack of any CO2 control or plan for addressing it runs directly counter to these findings.

The TransAlta coal-fired plant is the state's biggest single polluter, contributing 10 percent of the climate-warming emissions released in Washington.

"There is no excuse for the agency to allow these amounts of damaging emissions from this old coal-fired plant," said Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "EPA must step in to protect Washington's majestic national parks and the region's residents from this major polluter."

Under state and federal clean air laws, the Southwest Clean Air Agency must review and renew with any necessary modifications the aging coal plant's air permit at least once every five years to ensure compliance with air pollution laws and to ensure that the latest pollution control standards are met.  The permit was issued on September 17, 2009.

The conservation groups asked EPA to block the renewed permit because the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency has:

  • Failed to provide for the control of carbon dioxide emissions, an air contaminant that is detrimental to human health and welfare, property, and business;
  • Failed to provide for the control of mercury emissions, an air contaminant that is detrimental to human health and welfare, property, and business;
  • Failed to provide for adequate control of nitrogen oxide emissions, an air contaminant that is detrimental to human health and welfare, property, and business;
  • Failed to require reasonably available control technology for the control of carbon dioxide emissions or for mercury emissions.

The renewed permit even fails to incorporate the terms of an agreement recently reached largely out of the public eye, by TransAlta and the Washington Department of Ecology. The groups challenging the permit are also concerned that the TransAlta/Ecology agreement is inadequate to reduce the pollutants of concern as it has only voluntary commitments on mercury and does not require the best available controls for nitrogen oxides. The TransAlta/Ecology agreement is currently on a separate track from the permit renewal process.

The petition was filed with EPA on November 2, 2009 by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.   


Contact:

Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 29
Kathleen O'Neil, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717
Doug Howell, Sierra Club, (206) 378-0114, ext. 304
Mark Riskedahl, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, (503) 768-6673