Waste coal power plant OKd by panel

Waste coal power plant OKd by panel

Plans to build one of the largest waste coal power plant in the United States in the Greene County town of Nemacolin have cleared what promises to be the first in a series of legal hurdles.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board Wednesday upheld the state’s June 2005 approval of a plan by Wellington Development LLP to build the $1.3 billion power plant, saying it meets state and federal pollution limits and will not adversely impact the air in Shenandoah National Park.

But opponents plan to appeal the decision that would allow construction of the 525-megawatt facility that would burn 3.1 million tons of waste coal a year from four “gob piles” at long abandoned mining operations in Greene, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

Michael Parker, policy and outreach coordinator with the Group Against Smog and Pollution, one of the groups that appealed the state Department of Environmental Protection permit for the facility, said the decision endorsed less than best pollution controls.

“In a region of the country already heavily impacted by air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, Pennsylvania is not requiring this plant to minimize its pollution to the greatest extent possible,” said Mr. Parker, who indicated an appeal will be filed with Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. “We can and should do better.”

Wellington, which operates no other power plants, has said the facility will use circulating fluidized bed combustion technology to burn a mix of 85 percent coal refuse and 15 percent newly mined coal.

The Fairmont, W.Va.-based development group plans to build the power plant on the former LTV Mine site along the west bank of the Monongahela River, on property purchased from the DEP, which had taken over the property from bankrupt LTV in 2004. Wellington must also treat acid mine drainage on the site.

Although the site of the proposed power plant is almost 115 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the National Parks Conservation Association, another appellant in the EHB case, said its emissions will damage air quality and visibility in the park, already one of the most polluted parks in the nation. The association also alleges air quality will be harmed in Dolly Sods National Wilderness, in West Virginia, about 60 miles from the proposed power plant.

“Wellington could build and operate its plant in a way that will protect Shenandoah air quality, but it chose not to,” said Mark Wenzler, clean air programs director for the parks conservation association. “It’s disappointing that Pennsylvania is allowing this flawed project to go forward.”

The DEP did require Wellington to reduce its annual air pollution emissions as the result of public comments, though the plant would still emit 289.7 tons of soot, 3,767 tons of sulfur dioxides and 1,931.4 tons on nitrogen oxides.

After a full month of testimony in June, the EHB’s 118-page opinion issued by Administrative Law Judge Thomas Renwand found that the DEP’s required air pollution mitigation measures “will adequately protect the air quality related values” in the park.

In doing so, the board rejected the position of the appellants that Wellington should be required to install “selective catalytic reduction” equipment, a technology developed in Europe that would reduce pollution emissions more than the system Wellington proposes. But that technology may not be available, according to company experts.

According to the board’s opinion, the pollution controls proposed by the company would make the plant “a state of the art facility with world class environmental controls.”

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