Press Release | August 24, 2009

S.C. Pee Dee Coal Plant Suspended

The Southern Environmental Law Center hails today’s unanimous vote by Santee Cooper’s board to suspend permits for the state-owned utility’s proposed Pee Dee coal plant after reviewing the generation plan and re-considering the context for the plant–a down economy, impending carbon costs, increasing construction costs, and other options to meet demand.

“We commend Santee Cooper for recognizing the true cost of coal and acting decisively to move South Carolina forward to a clean energy future,” said Blan Holman, senior attorney, the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Today’s decision keeps cash in people’s pockets by taking this $2.5 billion coal “clunker” off the road. Santee Cooper can turn its efforts towards pursuing energy efficiency measures to reduce electricity costs for its customers and clean renewable power to generate jobs across South Carolina.”

In a growing national trend, utilities and states are abandoning new coal-fired power plants, citing pollution concerns, increasing coal and construction costs and the decreasing cost of natural gas. Since the latest coal rush began in 2001, 100 proposed coal plants have been suspended or rejected. The Pee Dee coal plant pushes that national tally to 101.

Santee Cooper’s own studies show the utility could meet demand using cleaner burning natural gas and increased efficiency. Santee Cooper’s energy demand dropped 31 percent in the summer 2008 – before the economic downturn hit home. Additional studies show that energy efficiency upgrades and renewable power sources in South Carolina would create thousands of good-paying, permanent local jobs while protecting South Carolinian’s health and environment.

Permit documents on file with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control show that the proposed coal plant would have emitted over ten million tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of toxic and particle pollution every year over its projected 50-year lifespan.

Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey found that a quarter of freshwater fish nationwide are contaminated by unsafe levels of mercury, and that fish in South Carolina had some of the highest mercury levels ever recorded. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin to which fetuses and small children are especially vulnerable. The Great Pee Dee River and 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 local and regional coal plant sources.

Heat-trapping carbon dioxide is considered an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and is a main culprit of climate change. Upcoming federal regulation of carbon emissions realizes the true cost of coal and associated carbon pollution.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has challenged the state permit for Santee Cooper’s proposed Pee Dee coal plant in South Carolina Administrative Law Court on behalf of the 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.

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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.
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