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Challenging EPA's "Free Pass" for the Avenal Power Plant

Haze over California’s Central Valley, viewed from the International Space Station on January 17, 2014.

Haze over California’s Central Valley, viewed from the International Space Station on January 17, 2014.

NASA Earth Observatory

What's at Stake

Earthjustice is challenging a string of EPA actions that have exempted the proposed Avenal gas-fired power plant from key environmental safeguards.

Case Overview

If built, the Avenal gas-fired power plant would rain down pollution on one of the most polluted and economically disadvantaged areas of California’s San Joaquin Valley—a region known for some of the highest levels of ozone and soot pollution in the nation. The nearby cities of Avenal, Huron and Kettleman City are predominantly low-income, communities of color that already suffer from health impacts related to air and other sources of pollution.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a permit for the project that illegally waived the need to comply with several key air pollution standards. Since then, Avenal has chosen not to begin construction of the project even though by law the permit expires after 18 months. In its latest move, executed without any public participation, EPA has now also waived the 18-month construction deadline, compounding the project’s failure to demonstrate that it will install state-of-the-art greenhouse gas controls and that it will not cause or contribute to the Valley’s ongoing air pollution problems.

Earthjustice is representing a coalition of environmental justice and conservation groups in lawsuits that challenge EPA’s decisions to issue and then extend Avenal’s federal air pollution permit.

Case Updates

August 12, 2014 | Legal Document

Court Decision: Federal Court Strikes Down Illegal Permit for Avenal Power Plant in California

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down an illegal permit that would have allowed Avenal Power to build a new gas-fired power plant in Avenal, Calif. In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a permit for the project that illegally waived its need to comply with air quality safeguards. Had this permit gone through, the plant would have been built in one of the most polluted and economically disadvantaged areas of the San Joaquin Valley. In today’s ruling, the court admonished the agency, saying the applicable Clean Air Act statute “does not permit EPA to waive … requirements whenever it finds it convenient to do so.”