Private profits are being prioritized over public protection in an agreement between the State and TransAlta, the corporation that owns Washington's biggest polluter, a dirty, old coal plant. Documents released this week, detailing the agreement between the state and the coal plant, indicate the coal plant will be allowed to continue spewing unsafe levels of nitrogen oxide over residents.
The deal, will allow the Calgary, Canada-based TransAlta Corp., to delay or avoid stricter pollution controls far into the future for the toxic plant in Centralia. This will ensure it will remain the state's single largest source of air pollution.
When a draft of the agreement was circulated last fall, every major environmental group in the state, as well as prominent public health advocates and faith-based organizations, raised concerns with its weak targets for nitrogen oxide reductions. Their concerns have not been addressed in the agreement, nearing finalization, made public this week.
Sixteen groups, including the Sierra Club, Washington Conservation Voters, Climate Solutions and People for Puget Sound, wrote a letter to Governor Gregoire saying:
"The pollution from this plant negatively impacts air and water quality, threatens public health, contributes to climate change and degrades national treasures such as Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks and Puget Sound."
More than 1,200 public comments were submitted in opposition.
The National Park Service also opposes the agreement. "The proposed consent decree does not require the best technology to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, a key component of visibility impairment at the parks," wrote the National Parks Service in a comment letter.
"The haze that this plant creates means that on some days, you can't even see Mt. Rainier from downtown Seattle," said Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks Conservation Association. "This deal will allow TransAlta's coal-fired plant to continue harming our health and our region's air quality. The governor and the state need to do more to protect our health, the park, and the hundreds of businesses in Washington that depend on tourism."
"This deal raises concerns about whether the state has lost sight of its role as a pollution watchdog on behalf of the state's citizens and natural resources," said Janette Brimmer, an attorney for Earthjustice. "The state's primary concern should not be a foreign corporation's preferred business plan or profits. By excluding groups that might provide a measure of public scrutiny until too late in the process, we fear the state skirted its proper role as a regulator, public servant and caretaker of our incredible natural resources."
"Recent research shows that there are grave public health concerns with the pollution coming from this power plant every single day that plant operates," said Idil Levitas, of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. "The plant not only will be allowed to continue sending its pollution into our parks and wilderness areas, it can also continue to harm the health and welfare of Washington kids."
"People of faith are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, but the nitrogen pollution from the Trans Alta coal plant harms both people and the planet," said LeeAnne Beres, executive director for Earth Ministry and Washington Interfaith Power & Light. "Washington's religious community calls upon the Governor to protect the common good by moving our state beyond coal instead of entering into agreements allowing Trans Alta to continue to pollute."
"This is a bad deal for public health, a bad deal for the environment and a bad deal for Washington," said Doug Howell, Senior Representative for the Sierra Club's Coal Free Northwest campaign. "Our resources and the people of this state are not being protected."
The 1,400 megawatt Centralia coal-fired power plant is located approximately 50 miles from both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, and is Washington's largest source of nitrogen oxides, emitting approximately 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides each year. TransAlta's own regional haze models have shown that the plant's pollution is causing or contributing to haze in a dozen federally-protected areas and the Columbia River Gorge.
The process associated with this agreement does not bode well for the current negotiations between the Governor's office and TransAlta, about reducing its global warming pollution. Environmental, health and faith groups have repeatedly called for a public process to address the coal-burning plant's CO2 pollution; a huge contribution to Washington's global warming pollution.
"Tens of thousands of local Greenpeace activists oppose any deal that allows the TransAlta coal plant to continue polluting our air with global warming and health-harming pollutants for another 15 years," said Greenpeace organizer Sofia Gidlund.