Friday, December 17, 2010

Judge: Plant Washington air permit is no good

Posted By on Fri, Dec 17, 2010 at 8:33 AM

Plans for a coal power plant in middle Georgia — Georgia's first in more than 20 years — hit a roadblock on Thursday after a state judge rejected its air permit.

Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker said the state Environmental Protection Division must reconsider the permit for Plant Washington, an 850-MW power plant planned near Sandersville, Ga. Environmental groups represented in court by the Southern Environmental Law Center and GreenLaw successfully argued that the proposed plant doesn't do enough to prevent emissions of harmful pollutants into the air.

The $2.1 billion power plant is one of two planned in rural Georgia by Power4Georgians, a consortium of electric co-ops from across the state. The group claims Plant Washington would be a "state-of-the-art," "highly efficient" facility that could create more than 1,600 jobs during its four-year construction period. Environmentalists and community groups, however, say the project's short-term benefits wouldn't be worth the health risks to nearby residents.

“This ruling is an early Christmas present for our families,” Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Chandra Brown said in a statement. “We are thrilled that the judge ruled in favor of protecting the people who would be forced to breathe the hazardous air pollution from this proposed dirty coal plant. Now, if only the state environmental regulators would quit wasting tax payers money by defending permits that allow illegal levels of pollution, we will be celebrating happy New Year and progress for Georgia’s communities.”

Attempts to reach a Power 4 Georgians spokesman Thursday night were unsuccessful. Click here to read an earlier interview with the group's CEO Dean Alford.

UPDATE, 9:08 a.m.: After the jump, Power4Georgians' reaction to Walker's judgment.

We are very disappointed by this decision. As the ALJ acknowledged throughout her decision, Plant Washington’s permit contains a collection of the lowest emission limits of any coal-fired power plant in the country. These limits were the product of rigorous analyses by EPD. In the end, the ALJ elected to elevate form over substance, in that she focused on the words that the EPD witnesses used to explain their analyses, rather than the low emission limits that their analyses produced.

We are surprised by her decision.

In reaching her decision on two of the MACT claims, the ALJ ignored the fact that Plant Washington’s MACT surrogate emission limitations for PM-filterable and carbon monoxide (CO) have recently been cited by another court, and even the Sierra Club, as the lowest emission limitations that have been permitted for new coal-fired power plants.

The ALJ ruled in P4G’s and EPD’s favor on the majority of Petitioners’ claims. Of the five (5) claims left in the case, the ALJ rejected three (3) of these claims. Specifically, the ALJ rejected Petitioners’ claims regarding (a) the BACT emission limitation for sulfuric acid mist; (b) the use of CO as a surrogate for the control of dioxins and furans; and (c) P4G’s air dispersion modeling of PM10. The ALJ concluded, however, that the MACT emission limitations for PM-filterable and carbon monoxide (CO) are “not reflective of MACT.”

The ALJ did not agree that Petitioners’ proposed alternative PM-filterable and CO emission limitations were “reflective of MACT;” rather, she concluded that EPD and P4G failed to support the Permit’s PMfilterable and CO emission limitations with sufficient data and analysis.

It is important to note that P4G’s intention to move forward with plans to develop and construct Plant Washington is unchanged. The ruling is 69 pages long and it was received this afternoon. We view this as a temporary setback and we are reviewing the decision carefully to determine the best path forward for this project. Coal continues to be an important and essential part of a reliable, low-cost energy portfolio for the future as evidenced by progress made recently on other plants across the nation.

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