[BCNnet] Planned Illinois coal plant could cast haze over refuge
-Chicago Tribune article
Donald R. Dann
donniebird at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 21 09:16:46 CST 2005
I wholeheartedly agree. Forgive my expression of this strong personal
opinion, but in my view our state's habitat in general and certainly our
bird habitat will see continual and possibly irreparable degradation under
this governor's administration.
Donald R. Dann
Highland Park/Lake County
From: bcnnet-bounces at ece.iit.edu [mailto:bcnnet-bounces at ece.iit.edu] On
Behalf Of Randi Doeker - Chicago
Sent: Monday, March 21, 2005 8:35 AM
To: BCNnet at ece.iit.edu
Subject: [BCNnet] Planned Illinois coal plant could cast haze over refuge
-Chicago Tribune article
Forwarded with little comment because there is nothing polite I can say
about our Governor.
Planned Illinois coal plant could cast haze over refuge
By Michael Hawthorne
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
March 21, 2005
PUXICO, Mo. -- From a bluff above the remnants of a vast hardwood swamp, the
view often is clouded by haze that makes this soggy thicket of cypress and
tupelo one of the dirtiest wilderness areas in the nation.
Scientists at the federal agency that oversees the Mingo National Wildlife
Refuge say a new coal-fired power plant approved by the administration of
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich only will make the problem worse--adding more
pollution to the chemical stew lingering over the herons, turtles and otters
that live here.
After Illinois regulators refused to require the Peabody Energy plant to
wash its coal and install additional pollution controls, two commonly used
methods to curb haze-forming chemicals, the scientists urged their bosses at
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to file an appeal.
They were overruled by political appointees in Washington, who won't join
opponents fighting the project even though the agency still says the power
plant to be built near Marissa, Ill., about 40 miles southeast of St.
Louis-- would fall short of Clean Air Act rules intended to protect national
parks and wilderness areas.
The decision raises questions about whether the Bush administration is
interpreting the law to benefit Peabody, the world's largest coal company
and by far the industry's leading campaign contributor. It also highlights
the conflict between an aggressive push for more coal plants and the federal
government's obligations to keep air clean at Mingo and in other treasured
"This is great for Peabody's shareholders and for people who don't breathe
the air," said John Thompson, advocacy coordinator for the Clean Air Task
Force, one of several environmental groups challenging the power plant's
State officials are promoting the proposed Prairie State Generating Station
as the first of up to 12 new coal plants in Illinois--more than in any other
state. Among other things, they contend the plants are needed if more
restrictive federal pollution laws force older coal plants to shut down.
"We believe the plant is using clean-coal technology and we are comfortable
with our decision" to approve it, said Laurel Kroack, chief of the Illinois
Environmental Protection Agency's air bureau.
Nobody disagrees that the Peabody plant would be cleaner than any existing
coal plant in Illinois.
The question is whether the plant, which would be built 85 miles northeast
of the Mingo refuge, would be clean enough to meet federal laws that require
the best available technology to limit threats to public health and give
special protection to wilderness areas.
Environmental groups also say the Prairie State plant should be compared to
other projects that plan to use even cleaner methods to burn coal, not the
energy dinosaurs that were built more than 40 years ago.
Another plant planned for Illinois would burn the same type of coal as
Peabody's plant, but its rate of sulfur dioxide pollution would be about a
fifth of Peabody's, according to state records.
Thompson said the state's decision to give Peabody a permit sets a bad
"Why build a cleaner plant if your competitor can use inferior technology,
release vastly more pollution and have an adverse impact on a national
wildlife refuge?" he said.
Federal scientists say they likely wouldn't have a problem with the Peabody
plant if it was built with the cleaner technology. But they stopped short of
urging its use, opting instead to suggest that the coal company could take
less dramatic steps to limit haze-forming pollution.
According to a study by the Fish and Wildlife Service's air quality office,
the difference would be felt at the Mingo refuge, the last large patch of
hardwood swamp left from what once spread over 2.5 million acres in
Designated as a national wildlife refuge in the mid-1940s, Mingo reflects
the mix of biology and geology where the Ozark Plateau meets Southern
bottomlands and Northern hardwood forests. The Mississippi River meandered
through the area until an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault 18,000 years
ago shifted the muddy channel about 60 miles east.
More than 130,000 people flock to the refuge each year, but dirty air often
hangs over the swamp, as it does in better-known wilderness areas like
Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon that are supposed to share the same
protection from air pollution.
Of the 156 wilderness areas that Congress voted to protect under the Clean
Air Act in the late 1970s, Mingo is one of the haziest, according to federal
records. The pollution comes from power-plant smokestacks and vehicle
exhaust blown toward the refuge from miles away.
"If people are coming here to look and they can't see anything, that's a
problem," said Kathleen Burchett, refuge manager at Mingo.
"I live here and raise my kids here," she said. "If it's bad for the
environment, it's bad for us too."
The Illinois EPA awarded Peabody a permit to build the Prairie State plant
after reviewing an air-pollution analysis by the company's contractors. That
analysis was based on a computer model that federal land mangers have used
for years to predict how new sources of pollution would affect wilderness
But the contractors made some changes that altered the results, leading
Peabody to conclude that the plant would not contribute to haze at the
wildlife refuge. State officials accepted the results over the objections of
federal land managers.
"The methodology [Peabody] used was `one-sided,'" the Fish and Wildlife
Service concluded in a summary of its discussions with state regulators.
"That is, it only applied these adjustments to the instances where high
impacts were predicted."
Sandra Silva, chief of the air quality branch at the Fish and Wildlife
Service, said the decision was "one of only three times in the past 20 years
that a state has awarded a permit despite our concerns. We're extremely
surprised and disappointed with the way this has turned out."
Peabody, which contributed more than $600,000 to federal candidates and
national political parties during the 2004 election cycle, most of it to
Republicans, urged the wildlife agency to drop its objections. The agency
still thinks the plant would have an "adverse impact" on the Mingo refuge
but opted not to appeal the company's permit.
"It's a policy call," said Paul Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary at the
U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife
Service. He declined to elaborate.
Legal challenges have stalled construction of the Peabody plant . If built,
it would provide more electricity than any of the state's older coal plants,
but it would be equipped with scrubbers and other equipment that
substantially reduce the amount of air pollution coming out of the
For instance, the rate of sulfur dioxide emissions from the plant would be
about a fifth of the national average for existing coal plants, according to
"We see this plant as a terrific model and an environmental solution," said
Vic Svec, a Peabody spokesman.
Although more than three-quarters of the coal mined in the eastern United
States is washed to remove sulfur and other impurities, Peabody chose
instead to rely on equipment that removes sulfuric gases after the coal is
burned. The company also said installing additional pollution filters
requested by federal land managers wouldn't work because the gases would be
Blagojevich backs the Peabody project because the company plans to burn coal
mined next to the plant, providing a boost to a beleaguered industry that
once provided the economic backbone of southern Illinois.
To meet national limits on sulfur dioxide pollution, most of the state's
utilities switched to low-sulfur coal from Western states during the last
decade rather than installing pollution controls in order to keep burning
high-sulfur Illinois coal.
Along with a greater reliance on machines to mine coal, the fuel switching
has devastated many southern Illinois communities. The number of coal miners
working in the state has dropped to about 4,000 in 2005 from 18,000 in 1990,
according to the Illinois Coal Association.
Coal companies and their political allies say the only way the industry will
rebound is if new plants are built. The Peabody plant is expected to create
2,500 construction jobs and 450 permanent jobs.
"In the old days, you couldn't mine Illinois coal and protect the quality of
our air," Blagojevich said last month in his State of the State Message.
"Now you can."
Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the bcnnet