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Two Wins in Stopping Coal!

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on November 18, 2008

PSR contributed to two big victories that help block new coal plants and cut global warming emissions.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal review board ruled that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions should be considered in granting a permit for a proposed coal-fired power plant.   The finding raises a clear signal that new proposed power plants may be required to limit their emissions of CO2, the most widespread greenhouse gas.  (The decision addressed an appeal filed by the Sierra Club; PSR contributed a supporting amicus curiae brief.)
  • In Wisconsin, PSR helped prevent the construction of a 300-megawatt coal-burning electric plant.  It was the first coal plant to be defeated in Wisconsin.

The EPA decision:  On Nov. 13, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board found an EPA regional office remiss when it failed to consider CO2 emissions in granting an air permit for a proposed Utah power plant.  The Sierra Club had argued that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by failing to apply “best available control technology” (BACT) to limit CO2 emissions from the proposed plant. 

The legal argument reflected a 2007 Supreme Court decision establishing CO2 as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and therefore subject to EPA regulation.  That being the case, Sierra Club argued, the EPA regional office had the authority and the responsibility to establish a BACT limit for CO2 emissions.

The appeals board agreed and sent the decision back to the regional office to reconsider.  In so doing, the board noted that “this is an issue of national scope that has implications far beyond this individual permitting proceeding.”

Reconsideration of the decision will take months, meaning that guidance from the EPA will come after the Obama administration has named a new EPA administrator. 

In the meantime, noted Sierra Club staffer Bruce Nilles, the decision “freezes the coal industry in its tracks.”

PSR in its “friend of the court” brief argued that the EPA’s decision to ignore greenhouse gases posed a clear danger to climate stability and thus to public health. PSR argued that the 2007 Supreme Court decision created a legal obligation for the EPA to establish BACT limits for carbon dioxide emissions.  Yet, it noted, the EPA “failed to gather or reference any data regarding critical issues like potential adverse health implications.”

PSR stated its own position in ringing terms:

As scientists and physicians we rely on the evidence to identify solutions treatments if you will.  …Those things that we cannot cure we must work to prevent certainly that is the case with global warming.

In order to reduce U.S. emissions to an acceptable level, we must take steps now to address greenhouse gases emissions, especially from the largest sources of emissions coal-fired power plants.

We at PSR are proud of the role our collaboration played in supporting this important legal decision.

Win in Wisconsin:  The Wisconsin Public Service Commission recently rejected, by a vote of 3-0, a proposal to build a coal plant in the small town of Cassville.  The commission cited overwhelming public opposition, high costs, and the threat of global warming.

Four members of the PSR-Wisconsin Steering Committee testified in public hearings against the plant.  Bob Block, MD, and Pam Kleiss, Executive Director, testified in Cassville, and Ann Behrmann, MD, and Amy Schulz, RN, testified in Portage, the proposed plant's alternate site.

PSR’s national office coordinated with the Sierra Club at the national level and provided the Wisconsin chapter with resources and guidance.  PSR-WI coordinated its efforts with the Sierra Club locally and with Clean Wisconsin, a coalition which spearheaded the statewide effort.

PSR’s testimony added health issues to the roster of citizen concerns.  Linking health to the rising cost for the plant, the PSR representatives stressed that even the alarmingly high cost projections for the plant failed to take into account the health impacts from coal combustion.  They emphasized mercury emissions from coal plants, because, as Kleiss noted, “People readily understand the costs of a child with developmental delays or autism.”

Kleiss’ testimony was quoted in a newspaper article that appeared in The Dubuque Telegraph Herald, across the Mississippi River from Cassville.

The defeat of this plant marks the first time a proposed coal-fired power plant has been defeated in the state.  On, Wisconsin!

Readers:  The next EPA administrator can reshape U.S. energy policy, with profound implications for public health.  Whom would you nominate as the next EPA administrator?  Share your suggestions here.


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