Groups sue DNR over Oak Creek power plant project
Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 24 February 2005 05:26
Consumer products giant S.C. Johnson & Son and an environmental group are suing the state over its approval of an air emissions permit for We Energies' proposed coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek. Racine-based S.C. Johnson and Clean Wisconsin say the Department of Natural Resources failed to consider evidence of potentially harmful health effects when it analyzed the costs and benefits of the proposed project.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court said the state agency also did not consider other alternatives to the proposed power plant, located along Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Racine.

Construction of the two-coal fired generators at the site of an existing We Energies plant was slated to start in early 2005 but was delayed by a series of court challenges.

Last fall, a Dane County judge vacated the state's regulatory approval of the $2.15 billion project, saying the state Public Service Commission was too quick to approve the plan. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the plant March 30.

The latest lawsuit comes after an administrative law judge upheld the air emissions permit last month, saying the DNR did not need to compare emissions from the proposed project with plants using a less polluting form of burning coal.

But Katie Nekola, Clean Wisconsin's energy program director, said the agency failed to evaluate other, less-polluting technologies, which violates the federal Clean Air Act and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

"Considering that the DNR recently warned the public about unsafe levels of air pollution in the state, it is completely unacceptable that they would give the utility the green light to dump 1,000 more tons of particulate matter into the air every year," Nekola said Tuesday.

Al Shea, administrator for the DNR's of air and waste management department, said the judge affirmed the agency studied all the implications and used the best available control methods in its review.

"We obviously stand by our permit. It meets federal and state requirements, and that was affirmed by the administrative law judge," Shea said. "Frankly we think this is the best permit that we could have devised for the facility as it was proposed."

We Energies spokesman Thad Nation said the company will place emissions controls on its existing Oak Creek facility, causing a reduction of emissions of more than 60 percent, including emissions from the two new coal-fired units.

"This permit has been approved after a very extensive review by the DNR and has already been reaffirmed by an administrative law judge," Nation said.

Clean Wisconsin noted the proposed plant site already is designated as having high ozone levels, but Shea said the DNR permit requires the company to slash emissions to a lower level than they are currently.

In addition to concerns about air pollution from coal, environmental and civic groups are worried about the utility's plan to withdraw 2.2 billion gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, run it through boilers to generate electricity and return it to the lake 15 degrees warmer than when it entered the plant.

S.C. Johnson and Clean Wisconsin also are challenging air and construction permits the DNR issued.

Nation said the company would need to start building by July 1 to maintain its existing contracts and costs.
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