Environmental groups challenge Wise County coal plant

A permit for a 585-megawatt coal-fired power plant under construction in Wise County, Virginia violates Clean Air Act regulations for carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution, one of the main contributors to climate change, says a coalition of environmental and clean energy groups in an appeal sent today to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. 

The news coincides with an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency today that it plans to establish nationwide emission standards for the largest new and existing sources of CO2 and five other greenhouse gas pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made the announcement during a speech in California; details of the proposal were not immediately available.

“SELC and others all across the country maintain that carbon dioxide has been subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act for some time,” said Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Cale Jaffe. “We welcome the step EPA is taking today to set national emissions limits-it’s long overdue.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center is filing the notice of appeal on behalf of four groups: Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. The appeal is based, in part, on the claim that carbon dioxide is a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act and that, as a result, Dominion is obligated to undergo a “best available control technology” analysis for CO2 before it can build and operate the plant.

The legal challenge comes at a time when EPA and Congress are taking steps to control carbon emissions, and a growing number of states are rejecting new coal plants in part to curb the worst effects of global warming. In addition to today’s announcement, the EPA had previously made a preliminary finding that greenhouse gas emissions, endanger public health, and began a rule-making process to establish standards and controls for motor vehicles. The agency noted that, “…climate change is upon us as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, that climatic changes are already occurring that harm our health and welfare …”

The Dominion Virginia power plant would emit some 5.4 million tons of carbon dioxide every year for the life of the plant-roughly the equivalent of the heat-trapping emissions from all the vehicles in the metro Richmond area. Another proposed coal plant in Virginia by Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) in Hampton Roads would emit 14.6 million tons a year. Both the Dominion and ODEC projects have generated significant public opposition around the state with more than 42,500 people signing a petition calling on the state to move away from coal and turn to clean energy sources.

Last month the coalition resolved its successful claim against the power plant’s permit for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, locking in the strongest mercury standard in the country. Today’s filing is an appeal of a separate air permit that governs a different category of pollutants.


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