Press Release | April 13, 2009

Groups File Suit to Block State Air Pollution Permit for Unneeded Pee Dee Coal Plant

South Carolina’s environmental agency illegally permitted an unneeded coal-fired power plant on the Great Pee Dee River that would emit 31 times more toxic mercury than the legal limit and millions of tons of costly carbon pollution, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of several advocacy groups. “This plant would add mercury pollution to an already contaminated region of the Pee Dee, but DHEC waived the maximum mercury controls required by law,” said Blan Holman, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “The tragedy of DHEC’s decision is that we have far cheaper and cleaner options than a $2.5 billion coal plant, and those options would generate thousands more jobs than this dinosaur ever would.” In March, the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control approved an air pollution permit for the Florence County coal plant proposed by state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper. Under the permit, the plant, which would be located on property adjacent to the Great Pee Dee River, would emit over ten million tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of toxic and particle pollution every year throughout its projected 50-year lifespan. By authorizing such large amounts of pollution, DHEC’s permit violates federal Clean Air Act requirements, according to the lawsuit. Mercury is a potent toxin that can cause permanent brain and nervous system damage. Because it disrupts brain development, fetuses and small children are most vulnerable to mercury’s harmful effects. Already, the Great Pee Dee River and the nearby Lynches River both have posted limits on fish consumption due to mercury contamination. According to EPA, coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury in the United States. Recent EPA-backed studies show most mercury contamination comes from these local and regional sources. The DHEC permit contains no limits on heat-trapping carbon dioxide, a main culprit of climate change. In 2007, the United States Supreme Court decided carbon dioxide clearly was an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Additional federal regulation of carbon emissions is expected in 2010 following this decision. Yet DHEC did not even require an analysis of ways to reduce carbon emissions and Santee Cooper has yet to publicly acknowledge the cost to ratepayers for the ten million tons of carbon dioxide the proposed plant would emit. In a growing national trend, private utilities are abandoning new coal-fired power plants, citing pollution concerns as well as increasing coal costs and the decreasing cost of natural gas. Just last week, investor-owned utility Entergy announced it was shelving a new coal project in Louisiana because of lower demand, high financing costs, increasing coal costs and falling natural gas prices. Utilities including several Santee Cooper power distributors have announced significant rate increases in South Carolina due to rising coal prices. Santee Cooper’s own studies show that demand could be met using natural gas and increased efficiency. Additional studies show that efficiency upgrades and renewable sources in South Carolina make the plant unnecessary and would create thousands of good-paying, permanent local jobs while protecting South Carolinian’s health and environment. Meanwhile, Santee Cooper’s claimed energy shortfall, said to justify the $2.5 billion plant, dropped a whopping 31 percent as of the summer 2008 – before the economic downturn hit home. In filing today’s challenge in South Carolina Administrative Law Court, the Southern Environmental Law Center represents Environmental Defense Fund, League of Women Voters of S.C., the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club. The contested case is filed against DHEC. ### Southern Environmental Law Center The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org Environmental Defense Fund A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org. League of Women Voters of South Carolina The League of Women Voters of South Carolina is a subsidiary of the League of Women Voters of the United States and a non-profit corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of South Carolina, with over 700 members across the state. The League of Women Voters encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. Sierra Club Founded in 1892 and with 1.3 million members, the Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. The Sierra Club’s mission is dedicated to protecting America’s wild places; creating healthy, sustainable communities; and promoting a clean energy future. The South Carolina Chapter has close to 6,000 members and works to protect the state’s water, air, land, and way of life. www.sierraclub.org South Carolina Coastal Conservation League The Coastal Conservation League is a grassroots non-profit conservation organization, with over 4000 members, founded in 1989 to protect the natural environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities. The League works with individuals, businesses, and government to ensure balanced solutions. South Carolina Wildlife Federation The South Carolina Wildlife Federation, SCWF, promotes effective habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. The Federation was formed in 1931, when a handful of sportsmen crisscrossed the state to recruit fellow outdoor enthusiasts. In just a few months, around 2,000 people joined as charter members. It is an affiliate of National Wildlife Federation.