The TransAlta coal plant near Centralia, WA is not just the state's largest stationary source of air pollution, it also creates significant water pollution. To operate, a federal Clean Water Act permit, known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, is required. The comments submitted today urge Ecology to revise and strengthen the proposed water pollution permit to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.
Ecology, acting as the state permitting agency, is required to ensure the coal plant meets water quality and treatment technology standards. If they do not, the federal Environmental Protection Agency may step in and object to the permit.
"Weak water pollution permits pose dangers for Washington families and for our salmon streams," said Kathleen Ridihalgh, Senior Organizing Director for the Sierra Club's Coal Free Northwest Campaign. "Ecology has a duty to protect the natural resources and people of this state."
TransAlta generates water pollution from many sources including the old coal mine pits on site, their industrial process, and the rainwater that runs off of uncovered coal piles. Ecology has found that TransAlta's water pollution has been violating a number of water quality standards, including standards set for safe levels of chromium and selenium.
In addition to conventional water pollutants, the plant also discharges chlorine, selenium and metals including mercury, copper, zinc, lead, and chromium. These pollutants are toxic to humans and aquatic life. Copper and selenium are especially toxic to fish, including salmon and steelhead.
The EPA recently released a major study and directive to states regarding the toxic pollutants in coal plant wastewaters and coal combustion waste. The EPA report found that the old-fashioned settling ponds—which TransAlta uses for its Centralia coal-fired power plant—simply do not remove the most toxic of these pollutants, allowing coal plants like TransAlta to discharge dangerous levels of pollutants into Washington waters.
Despite EPA's findings and Ecology's conclusion that TransAlta is polluting Washington waters in violation of standards, TransAlta and Ecology have chosen to simply continue using the inadequate ponds and to simply study the issue for the life of the permit.
Janette Brimmer an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the coalition, said, "Despite strong evidence to the contrary, the TransAlta Coal Plant wants to believe antiquated settling ponds are 'good enough' to control their water pollution. A study is simply postponement of needed protections. Ecology must require the coal plant to enter the 21st century and strengthen TransAlta's water pollution permit by requiring state-of-the-art water pollution technology being used at other plants around the nation. The State of Washington deserves nothing less."
Earthjustice represents the Sierra Club and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in this matter. The Quinault Nation also submitted comments on the proposed NPDES permit.