Sierra Club Wins Appeal of Coal Plant Air Permit

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2008 (ENS) - In a case with national implications, the Environmental Appeals Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled today that the EPA had no valid reason for refusing to require that best available control technology be used to limit carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired power plant proposed in Utah.

The Sierra Club went before the Environmental Appeals Board in May to request that the air permit issued by EPA Region 8 for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative's proposed waste coal-fired power plant be overturned because it failed to require controls on carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

As permitted, Deseret Power's 110 megawatt Bonanza plant would have emitted 3.37 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. It would be located next to the existing Bonanza Power Plant on Bureau of Indian Affairs land.

"Today's decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy," said Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club attorney who argued the case. "This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America."

"The EAB rejected every Bush administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States," said Spalding. "This decision gives the Obama administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century."

In its ruling, the three member Board sent the air permit back to EPA Region 8 for reconsideration of how best available control technology, or BACT, should be used to limit carbon dioxide emissions at the proposed power plant.

The Region must also "develop an adequate record for its decision" the Board ruled.

"In remanding this permit to the Region for reconsideration of its conclusions regarding application of BACT to limit CO2 emissions, the Board recognizes that this is an issue of national scope that has implications far beyond this individual permitting proceeding," the ruling states.

"The Board suggests that the Region consider whether interested persons, as well as the Agency, would be better served by the Agency addressing the interpretation of the phrase "subject to regulation under this Act" in the context of an action of nationwide scope, rather than through this specific permitting proceeding."

The decision follows a 2007 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and can be subject to regulation by the U.S. EPA.

EPA Region 8 argued unsuccessfully that, notwithstanding the Supreme Court's decision, it does not have the authority to impose a CO2 best available control technology limit because the regulations only require monitoring and reporting of CO2 emissions, not actual control.

The Sierra Club also argued that EPA Region 8 had failed to consider alternatives to the coal-fired power plant as required by the Clean Air Act, an argument rejected by the Appeals Board.

Still, the environmental group says the Board's ruling "signals the start of the our clean energy future."

"Coal plants emit 30 percent of our nation's global warming pollution. Building new coal plants without controlling their carbon emissions could wipe out all of the other efforts being undertaken by cities, states and communities across the country," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "Everyone has a role to play and it's time that the coal industry did its part and started living up to its clean coal rhetoric."

Based in South Jordan, Utah, Deseret Power is a regional generation and transmission cooperative serving the 45,000 customers of its six member retail systems in Utah, Wyoming and Nevada, and selling surplus power to municipalities, power marketers and other wholesale electric systems in six states.

The company has not commented directly on the ruling but says on its website, "Deseret's primary generating resource, the Bonanza Power Plant is consistently ranked in the top environmentally clean coal fired plants in the U.S."

Said Nilles, "Instead of pouring good money after bad trying to fix old coal technology, investors should be looking to wind, solar and energy efficiency technologies that are going to power the economy, create jobs, and help the climate recover."

{Photo: The new power plant is proposed adjacent to this existing coal-fired Deseret Power plant. (Photo by Erin LeFevre)}

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