DNR should strictly limit pollutants from proposed coal plant

Ever since the Iowa Utilities Board voted 2-1 to approve Alliant’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant outside Marshalltown, environmentalists have been hoping the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would be strict when issuing a draft air permit for the plant.

Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.

Neila Seaman, director of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, wrote an op-ed column published in the Des Moines Register on Monday, and she doesn’t sound optimistic about the DNR’s likely action in this case:

To regulate greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5, the DNR should require Alliant to perform a “best available control technology” analysis, known as a BACT analysis. The analysis considers all control technologies available on the market, evaluates what would control the pollutants for this type of facility and takes into account the technology already installed to control the pollutant. With that information, the best technology installed is used to set limits. The limits that are set in the permit would result in the best control of that pollutant. Without this analysis, the permits will not control the pollution from particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases at all.

In other words, without the best-available-control-technology analysis, there will be no regulation of the pollutant in the air permit. With no regulation in the air permit, Alliant will be able to spew unlimited amounts of greenhouse gases and particulate matter 2.5 into the atmosphere.

Currently, the DNR appears to be unwilling to require a best-available-control-technology analysis, asserting rules specifically regulating these pollutants are not in place. The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club respectfully disagrees. The DNR also maintains that particulate matter 10 – a larger soot particle – is being regulated and, therefore, there is no need to regulate particulate matter 2.5. Although the DNR does control limits on particulate matter 10, particulate matter 2.5 is much smaller in size and a more serious health hazard, but will not necessarily be controlled by the particulate matter 10 limits.

Federal regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, recent court decisions, and even DNR’s own regulations require regulation of particulate matter 2.5 and greenhouse gases. And yet, it appears the DNR is not going to require a best-available-control-technology analysis for particulate matter 2.5 and for greenhouse gases.

I don’t understand why the DNR would decide against regulating the fine particulate matter produced by this plant, given the proven impact of emissions from coal facilities on public health.

Let’s hope Seaman’s pessimism turns out to be unfounded.

Speaking of the coal plant, I contacted the Iowa Utilities Board to find out whether its chairman, John Norris, plans to serve out his term, which expires in 2011. (His wife Jackie Norris recently accepted an offer to become First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.) Staff at the Iowa Utilities Board told me Norris has not announced a decision. I will write a separate post for this blog once I hear whether he plans to stay or go.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user RF for pointing me to this Des Moines Register article:

Iowa Utilities Board Chairman John Norris, whose wife has been named chief of staff to incoming first lady Michelle Obama, said Monday he is interested in an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norris, a veteran Democratic campaign operative, said he would consider serving on the commission or as chairman of the agency with jurisdiction over electricity sales, wholesale electric rates and other energy sales regulation. […]

“It would be fair to say I’m interested in either FERC chairmanship or a commissioner spot,” Norris said. “There are other things I’m interested in and the transition team is rightly focused on filling Cabinet posts and putting together an administration. I’m respecting their timetable and would consider whatever position in the administration where I can be most helpful.”

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