Press Release | March 12, 2008

Dominion playing shell game with pollution impacts of Wise Co. coal plant

Dominion Power is playing fast and loose with projections about air pollution impacts of its proposed coal-fired power plant in Wise County, a coalition of groups said today in a filing with the Department of Environmental Quality.   Among other serious deficiencies in its permit application, the utility shuffles between various types of fuel sources, making an analysis of pollution impacts meaningless.  It also fails to sufficiently re-analyze mercury emissions in light of last month's landmark federal court ruling that mercury is a toxic chemical and must be regulated.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed more than 60 pages of critical analysis, supported by 38 exhibits, with the DEQ today, the last day for the public to comment on the draft permit the agency issued for Dominion's controversial plan to build a 585-megawatt, $1.8 billion coal-fired plant in Wise County.  SELC is representing the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Sierra Club. 

Citing the unprecedented public involvement in this highly polluting proposal – public hearings in Richmond and St. Paul have been filled beyond capacity  –  SELC is asking the state Air Pollution Control Board to retain final authority over whether to let Dominion build the power plant.

“We are asking the air board to hold Dominion responsible for its failure to provide an honest accounting of the pollution impacts of this plant,” said Sarah Rispin, SELC staff attorney.  Under Virginia law, DEQ will decide whether to issue the final permit unless the air board specifically retains authority.

Wise County and surrounding areas are already polluted by another coal-fired power plant in adjacent Russell County known as the Carbo plant and owned by American Electric Power. That plant contributes to violations of federal ambient air quality standards for several pollutants.  Dominion's plant would worsen air pollution in the region with yearly emissions of at least 3,369 tons of sulfur dioxide, 739 tons of particulate matter, 1,971 tons of nitrogen oxides, 4,132 tons of carbon monoxide, 139 tons of volatile organic compounds, and between 49 and 72 pounds of mercury.  

But, Rispin said, these numbers themselves are impossible to rely on because of the inadequate and inconsistent analysis done by Dominion. “This is really a shell game Dominion is playing – they've changed the numbers from one page to the next, so it's anyone's guess what the impacts could be.”
Throughout its documentation, the utility changes the mixture of fuels it says it would use, rendering an analysis of air pollution impacts meaningless, Rispin said.  For example, the utility says in various places that it would burn 100% central Appalachian coal, 100% run-of-mine coal, 60% waste coal and 40% central Appalachian coal; and, 83% run-of-mine coal and 17% wood and waste coal.  Further, Dominion failed to analyze the content of the waste coal it plans to burn; waste coal, or “gob” is widely known to contain more sulfur, mercury, and other harmful pollutants than newly mined coal.

Dominion's analysis on mercury emissions are also faulty.  Deposited in surface waters, mercury turns into a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish and poses serious developmental risks to fetuses, infants and even adults, but it has not been regulated.  In February, in a case that SELC litigated, a federal court ruled that mercury emissions from power plants must be regulated.  While Dominion had previously said the Wise County plant would emit 72 pounds of mercury yearly, it now claims emissions of 49 pounds yearly, using the same technology and same rate of mercury captured.  The DEQ has rushed through a separate mercury permit, now required because of the federal ruling, based on the lower number.

“Suddenly Dominion can cut mercury pollution by a third using the same method?  Either the air permit or mercury permit contain seriously flawed calculations, or Dominion has changed assumptions about the fuel mixture – without telling anyone – to meet a mercury limit  that still fails to comply with the Clean Air Act” said Cale Jaffe, another SELC staff attorney working on the case.  “Dominion needs to commit to a set fuel mixture so the public and the State Air Pollution Control Board have accurate information about how much pollution this plant would dump in the air every year.”

Other failings SELC points out include:

  • Dominion omitted entire portions of its required analysis, failing to look at effects of the plant on fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ozone levels in the air. 
  • Although the Clean Air Act requires an extensive search of methods available for limiting pollution from new power plants, Dominion failed to look at several categories of control technology.
  • Dominion dismissed out of hand steps as elementary as cleaning coal before burning it, or using more cutting-edge technology like integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), a method which drastically reduces conventional pollutants as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

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