The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 29,
Joshua Osborne-Klein, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340

Kathleen O’Neil, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717

Doug Howell, Sierra Club, (206) 378-0114, ext. 304
Mark Riskedahl, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, (503) 768-6673

Groups Seek to Protect People and National Parks from Transalta Coal Plant in Washington State

Lawsuit Asks for Stricter Pollution Limits


Conservation and energy groups filed an appeal
yesterday of an air pollution permit issued for a large coal plant in
Centralia, Washington, owned by a subsidiary of Canadian-based
TransAlta Corporation. The suit alleges that the Southwest Washington
Clean Air Agency has violated federal and state clean air laws and
seeks to include controls for toxic mercury, haze and global warming
pollutants in a revised permit.

"It is unacceptable for the Southwest Clean Air Agency and TransAlta
to treat this permit renewal as a ministerial exercise," said Janette
Brimmer, staff attorney with Earthjustice, the public-interest law firm
that represents the conservation and energy groups in the appeal. "The
agency has failed to protect Washington and the region's residents from
air pollution that is harming our children, contaminating our national
parks, and warming and damaging our climate."

Under state and federal clean air laws, the Southwest Clean Air
Agency must renew the aging coal plant's air permit at least once every
five years to ensure compliance with air pollution laws and to ensure
that the latest pollution control standards are met. Unfortunately, the
permit issued by the agency contains no mercury or global warming
pollution controls and fails to require the best pollutant controls for
haze-causing nitrogen oxides. As a result, the renewed permit fails to
comply with both the Washington and Federal Clean Air Acts.

The TransAlta plant is Washington state's only coal-burning power
plant, and is the single largest source of global warming pollution in
the state, with nearly 10 percent of Washington's total climate-warming
emissions coming from this single coal plant. It is also the single
largest source of haze-causing nitrogen oxides. The approximately
12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides it puts out each year contribute to haze
pollution over Mt. Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades National parks
as well as Goat Rocks Wilderness and many other forest, wilderness and
recreational areas throughout the region. Federal law requires these
areas to have the cleanest, best-protected air quality.

"The state can and should do better to protect Washington's majestic
national parks and the region's residents from the harms caused by this
major polluter, said Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks
Conservation Association. "Given the host of pollution control,
efficiency, and alternative energy options, there is no excuse for the
agency and state to allow these amounts of damaging emissions."

The plant is also the leading source of toxic mercury pollution, a
potent neuro-toxin particularly harmful to young children and pregnant
women. Coal power plants are the leading source of mercury pollution in
this country, and other states have issued permits with much tougher
controls for this pollutant.

"The TransAlta coal plant needs to move into the 21st century by
reducing toxic mercury pollution by 90 percent with already-available
and in-use technologies," commented Mark Riskedahl, executive director
of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. "TransAlta also needs to
lead the way on rapidly reducing Washington's contribution to global
warming by adopting strict limits for its climate-warming emissions."

"In Washington state, TransAlta, as the number one source of global
warming, mercury and haze pollution, has had a free ride for too long,"
said Doug Howell, senior representative for the Sierra Club's Coal-Free
Northwest campaign. "This old, filthy coal-fired plant must be seen for
what it is and now is the time to hold the coal plant accountable to
fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our
health, environment, and economy."

The renewed permit even fails to incorporate the terms of an
agreement recently reached, behind closed doors and out of the public
eye, by TransAlta and the Washington Department of Ecology. The groups
challenging the permit are also concerned that the TransAlta/Ecology
agreement is inadequate to reduce the pollutants of concern as it
contains no limits on global warming pollutants, has only voluntary
commitments on mercury and does not require the best available controls
for either mercury or nitrogen oxides. The TransAlta/Ecology agreement
is currently on a separate track from the permit renewal process.

The appeal was filed with the Washington State Pollution Control
Hearings Board on September 28, 2009 by Earthjustice on behalf of
Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and Northwest
Environmental Defense Center.