Four conservation groups asked the Southwest Clean Air Agency in Vancouver, Washington to limit global warming pollution from TranAlta's coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington. The coal-plant is by far the single largest source of climate pollution in Washington state, responsible for nearly 10 times more pollution than the next biggest emitter. It is also the leading source of toxic mercury pollution in the state and a major contributor to haze in Mt. Rainier National Park. The plant's air quality permits are in the process of being renewed and the conservation groups seek to hold the corporation accountable for its impacts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology have already determined climate pollution to be a danger to public health and the environment. The conservation groups argue that they give the Department of Ecology and the Southwest Clean Air Agency the legal mandate and the moral obligation to protect public welfare by including greenhouse gas controls in the TransAlta coal plant's air quality permit.
"Now is the time for the Southwest Clean Air Agency to step up to the plate and fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our health and environment. And there is no better place to start than the single largest polluter with TransAlta's coal-fired power plant" said Dan Ritzman, Western Director for the Sierra Club.
Old, dirty coal-fired power plants like the TransAlta plant in Centralia, have had a free ride for too long," said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the comments on behalf of the conservation groups. "Washington can and should lead the way to requiring controls of these very serious pollutants that are injurious to our health, our environment, and our economy."
Climate pollution is not the only culprit at the TransAlta's coal plant. On June 24, 2009, haze-causing nitrogen oxide pollution from the coal plant came under scrutiny when the National Parks Conservation Association filed a separate petition with the federal Department of Interior to address the plant's impacts on nearby Mount Rainier National Park.
"Pollution from the Centralia plant is clouding scenic views in Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks as well as a dozen other protected areas," said Stephanie Kodish, clean air counsel for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The National Park Service has said this plant causes the greatest impact on visibility in national parks and wilderness areas of any coal-fired power plant in the entire United States. The State of Washington should require this coal plant to clean up."
In addition to the climate and haze pollution, the coal plant is a leading source of mercury, a toxic pollutant which is emitted by the plant's smokestacks and contaminates lakes, rivers and streams. Mercury works its way through the food chain, accumulates in fish, and is passed on to humans who eat the fish. While harmful to everyone, women and children are especially susceptible to harm from exposure to mercury. Nationally the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that already one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put a baby at risk of cognitive or developmental damage. The National Park Service has reported unusually high levels of mercury that exceed health thresholds for fish at Mt. Rainier and levels that are detrimental to wildlife in Olympic National Park.
"Our region is blessed with abundant clean-energy resources, from bill-lowering energy efficiency to a growing array of affordable new renewable energy opportunities," said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "Dirty coal plants have no place in the Northwest's clean-energy future."