Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the Department of Energy’s investment in a proposed multi-billion dollar coal plant and strip mine in Kemper County, Mississippi without proper environmental review. The Sierra Club is taking the DOE to task for investing billions in risky technology that is inconsistent with the Obama Administration’s stated commitment to invest in clean energy technologies.
“Wall Street investors have stopped pouring money into dirty coal projects, but DOE has opted to saddle U.S. taxpayers with the costs of yesterday’s technology,” said Louie Miller, Director of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club. “DOE is acting irresponsibly in giving hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize a Fortune 500 corporation like Southern Company to build the dirty, expensive, and unnecessary Kemper coal project.”
Southern Company, one of the nation’s top emitters of carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, will be the beneficiary of federal funding and loan guarantees to build a 582-megawatt coal-fired power plant and a 48-square-mile lignite coal mine. The mine would operate up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and would be constructed on prime farmland, destroying hundreds of miles of streams and sensitive wetlands. The coal plant project also would emit thousands of tons of toxic air pollutants every year, including ozone-forming nitrogen oxide, soot-forming sulfur dioxide, lung-damaging particulate matter, sulfuric acid mist, diesel exhaust, mercury, and lead.
While Southern Company touts its Kemper proposal as an “advanced” coal project, the plant will not be required to capture or sequester its carbon dioxide emissions. Every year, it will generate 5.7 million tons of greenhouse gases—the equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions from 1 million cars. Despite these serious environmental and public health consequences, the proposal is slated to receive $293 million dollars under DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative program and additional support in federal loan guarantees that could cover loans of nearly $2 billion, not to mention millions of dollars in tax breaks.
“The Department of Energy is not disclosing serious environmental and financial risks to this project’s unknowing sponsor, the U.S. Taxpayer,” said Bridget Lee of non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club. “This is no time to give away money to big coal. We need to spend scarce resources on energy solutions that are genuinely clean.”
DOE’s plans to fund the Kemper project are contrary to the Obama Administration’s stated commitment to environmental justice. Kemper County, where the mine and power plant will be located, is one of Mississippi’s poorest counties. “The mining, the pollution, the waste are all going to hit this community awfully hard,” said Barbara Correro, Kemper County resident. “Many of these folks do not have the resources to move, and so they are going to be stuck with the health and environmental fallout from this awful project.”