According to the ruling issued April 19, a permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, EPD, did not sufficiently limit harmful air pollution that will be emitted by the plant, to be located in southwestern Georgia.
EPD must reconsider its permit after the court found flaws in provisions designed to make Longleaf a "minor" source of pollution for toxic air pollutants.
EPD's permit would allow New Jersey-based LS Power to build the country's largest coal plant and classify it as a "minor" source of pollution, a strategy aimed at getting around stricter pollution controls required for a "major" source of pollution.
EPD defended the permit on the ground that it contained safeguards to ensure that the plant would emit at "minor" source levels.
The court found, however, that the permit's monitoring and reporting scheme could "miss" many tons of toxic air emissions each year, including emissions of known carcinogens like formaldehyde.
Coheelee Creek near Blakey, Georgia (Photo credit unknown)
The court also found that the permit did not account for toxic air emissions from the entire facility.
The court sent the permit back to the state agency to address these issues.
The court upheld the permit in other respects, disagreeing with the challengers' core contention the facility remained a "major" source of toxic air pollutants despite the provisions designed to make it "minor."
The mercury and air toxics rule recently proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency observes no distinction between "major" and "minor" coal-fired utilities, holding them all to a common set of standards, including a mercury limit that is sharply lower than the limit in the permit.
However, the proposed rule will not become final until November, and Longleaf would have several years to comply with the new standard.
Longleaf is designed to be a 1200 megawatt plant that would emit millions of tons of pollutants each year in Early County along the Chattahoochee River. LS Power can sell the power to buyers anywhere in the U.S. without being subject to any regulation by Georgia's Public Service Commission.
GreenLaw, a nonprofit public interest law firm, represented Friends of the Chattahoochee and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, in their challenge to the EPD decision to approve the construction of the power plant.
"This is another step on our journey," said Bobby McLendon, president of Friends of the Chattahoochee. "We need the pollution controls called for by the Clean Air Act in order to protect all our citizens, but especially our children, from being forced to breathe dirty air."
"We are pleased that we were able to make progress on this complex case, which arbitrarily classifies a massive plant as a minor rather than major source of air pollution," said GreenLaw Executive Director Justine Thompson. "Although the court is returning the permit to EPD for further consideration, we are disappointed that the classification of Longleaf as a minor source of pollution was not rejected."
"EPD should be doing a better job protecting public health and enforcing the Clean Air Act," said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
"By letting the permit applicant, LS Power, get away with calling its plant a 'minor' source, EPD gave an out-of-state company a free pass to emit hazardous pollutants in Georgia," said Kiernan. "While we are pleased that the permit will be re-considered, we are disappointed that the court still considers the plant a 'minor' source of pollution."
Recently, plans to construct coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana have been canceled. Other states are showing rising concern about the financial risks, high water consumption, and air pollution caused by coal plants.
Georgia already has 10 coal-fired power plants, leading to public health costs of over $6 billion a year from health problems such as respiratory illness and premature deaths attributed to the pollution emitted by these coal plants, the plaintiff groups point out.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.