Several leading conservation and clean energy groups have filed an appeal with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals to stop a proposed coal-fired power plant from spewing millions of tons of CO2 and other air pollutants into Nevada skies.
The organizations — including the Bristlecone Alliance, Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Resource Watch, Post Carbon Salt Lake, Nevada Wildlife Federation, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Western Resource Advocates, and National Parks Conservation Association, represented by attorneys from Earthjustice — are urging the Board to reject the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the White Pine Energy Station near Ely, Nevada.
The White Pine project would be one of the largest and most heavily polluting coal plants in the western United States. Operation of the facility would release an estimated 12.88 million tons of CO2, the predominant greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, into the air each year. The plant would also emit significant amounts of other harmful pollutants, such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, and fine soot, impairing local air quality and visibility in nearby Great Basin National Park.
“America’s top scientists have made it clear that continuing to burn coal will lead directly to climate catastrophe,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Amy Atwood. “We need to scrap proposals for obsolete, dirty coal plants like White Pine and move toward a clean energy future.”
In approving the project, which will be constructed and operated by the LS Power Group, the Bureau of Land Management authorized the sale of 1,281 acres of undeveloped public lands and additional rights-of-way for the facility and associated electric transmission lines, a well field and water pipelines, a railroad spur, access roads, and other features.
“Selling pristine public lands so private corporations can build dirty coal plants is the exact opposite of what this country needs right now. America should be leading the transition to sustainable energy,” said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun.
In its analysis of the project, the Bureau of Land Management disregarded the facility’s health impacts on area residents, the effects on local water supplies and imperiled species, and the potentially massive contribution of greenhouse gases. It also failed to consider clean-energy alternatives or conservation measures. The proposal’s numerous deficiencies were made clear to the Bureau in public comments submitted by the conservation groups, members of Congress, and other federal agencies such as the National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency.
“Instead of allowing a huge new dirty coal plant, LS Power and BLM should take the lead from other companies and public agencies that are working to meet electricity demand through energy efficiency and renewables,” said John Barth, an attorney for the groups. “We plan to vigorously contest the project to prevent a tremendous setback to these efforts to rein in global warming pollution and to protect the health of area residents.”
In fact, the approval of the White Pine Energy Station comes at the time when momentum is building for the development of other energy sources in Nevada, including geothermal, solar power, and wind.
“The White Pine power plant seriously undermines regional efforts to promote renewable energy projects,” said Charles Benjamin, the Nevada director of Western Resource Advocates. “There is simply no need for new coal plants like White Pine to meet the energy demands in Nevada. We call on LS Power and White Pine Energy Associates to join us in creating a clean and renewable energy future that will provide jobs and economic development throughout Nevada.”
“At a time when most of our policymakers have committed to reducing climate pollution, this project is a huge step in the wrong direction,” said Sierra Club’s Lydia Ball. “Knowing what we now know about global warming, we owe it to future generations to spend our resources and fuel our region on energy conservation and renewable resources like wind, geothermal, and solar power.”
The White Pine Energy Station is actually just one of three coal plants that have been recently proposed on Bureau lands in eastern Nevada. The other two facilities — the 1,500 megawatt Ely Energy Center and the 750 megawatt Toquop Energy Project — are also seeking approvals to begin construction.
“Yesterday, four of the top five most polluted cities in the country for air quality were in Utah,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The air pollution was the equivalent of everyone smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day, including children and pregnant women. Utah citizens are not going to stand back and allow several new coal plants to make these pollution problems even worse.”
“The massive, dirty coal plants proposed for eastern Nevada will have a devastating impact on air quality and visibility in places like Great Basin National Park in Nevada and Zion National Park in Utah,” said National Parks Conservation Association program manager Lynn Davis. “Enforcing our nation’s environmental laws will help clear the air for the millions of Americans who treasure these amazing places.”
With yesterday’s presidential inauguration and the changing of the guard at the Interior Department, the groups expressed hope that the incoming administration will take a new approach to climate change issues and public land management.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort said, “We’re hopeful that the new administration in Washington will act quickly to secure a clean energy future for the United States, and manage our public lands in ways that benefit all Americans.”