Conservation and energy groups today filed an appeal of an air pollution permit issued for a large coal plant in Centralia, Washington, owned by a subsidiary of Canadian-based TransAlta Corporation. The suit alleges that the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency has violated federal and state clean air laws and seeks to include controls for toxic mercury, haze and global warming pollutants in a revised permit.
"It is unacceptable for the Southwest Clean Air Agency and TransAlta to treat this permit renewal as a ministerial exercise," said Janette Brimmer, staff attorney with Earthjustice, the public-interest law firm that represents the conservation and energy groups in the appeal. "The agency 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."
Under state and federal clean air laws, the Southwest Clean Air Agency must renew 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. Unfortunately, the permit issued by the agency contains no mercury or global warming pollution controls and fails to require the best pollutant controls for haze-causing nitrogen oxides. As a result, the renewed permit fails to comply with both the Washington and Federal Clean Air Acts.
The TransAlta plant is Washington state's only coal-burning power plant. The TransAlta power plant is the single largest source of global warming pollution in the state, with nearly 10 percent of Washington's total climate-warming emissions coming from this single coal plant. The TransAlta plant is also the single largest source of haze-causing nitrogen oxides. The approximately 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides it puts out each year contribute to haze pollution over Mt. 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.
"The state can and should do better to protect Washington's majestic national parks and the region's residents from the harms caused by this major polluter, said Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Given the host of pollution control, efficiency, and alternative energy options, there is no excuse for the agency and state to allow these amounts of damaging emissions."
The plant is also the leading source of toxic mercury pollution, a potent neuro-toxin particularly harmful to young children and pregnant women. Coal power plants are the leading source of mercury pollution in this country, and other states have issued permits with much tougher controls for this pollutant.
"The TransAlta coal plant needs to move into the 21st century by reducing toxic mercury pollution by 90 percent with already-available and in-use technologies," commented Mark Riskedahl, executive director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. "TransAlta also needs to lead the way on rapidly reducing Washington's contribution to global warming by adopting strict limits for its climate-warming emissions."
"In Washington state, TransAlta, as the number one source of global warming, mercury and haze pollution, has had a free ride for too long," said Doug Howell, senior representative for the Sierra Club's Coal-Free Northwest campaign. "This old, filthy coal-fired plant must be seen for what it is and now is the time to hold the coal plant accountable to fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our health, environment, and economy."
The renewed permit even fails to incorporate the terms of an agreement recently reached, behind closed doors and 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 contains no limits on global warming pollutants, has only voluntary commitments on mercury and does not require the best available controls for either mercury or nitrogen oxides. The TransAlta/Ecology agreement is currently on a separate track from the permit renewal process.
The appeal was filed with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board on September 28, 2009 by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.