Obama EPA blocks South Dakota Coal Power Plant

Obama’s top climate priority — higher even than passing a domestic cap-and-trade bill — is to stop new coal plants, as I discuss in my Salon piece, “Real science comes to Washington

So it is a very reassuring sign that, as Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed a hold on approval of a coal-fired power plant in South Dakota, a move environmental groups say indicates increased scrutiny under President Barack Obama.

“This is a signal that the Obama administration is taking a much harder look at coal power from the previous administration,” said Darrell Gerber, a program coordinator at Washington-based Clean Water Action, which along with the Sierra Club opposed the plant.

The EPA said in a letter to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources yesterday that the state didn’t meet requirements under the Clean Air Act in part of its proposed permit for the plant. The state has 90 days to respond to the agency’s objections.

Obama has pledged to fight global warming by cutting the amount of greenhouse gases released in the U.S. and pursuing clean-energy technology. Coal-fired power plants account for almost 30 percent of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

Here is more from the MN Progressive Project, which has been working hard to stop this plant:

Just as a little backgrounder, Big Stone II is a proposed coal plant in South Dakota that would provide power to Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. All these states have huge wind power potential but Big Stone II would commit us to dirty energy for generations. Here’s a longer factsheet. It’s a terrible idea but seemed to be heading towards approval, until today.

You can read for yourself the EPA ruling (PDFs: Part 1, Part 2). Environmental groups Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club are exited about a big victory. This does not end the fight but it is a significant blow to Big Stone II.

  • In November the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment issued Big Stone II an air quality permit, then it sent that to the EPA for review.
  • The EPA found 3 areas of the permit that were not consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.
  • South Dakota now gets 90 days to change the permit and then the EPA has 45 days after that to review the permit again.
  • The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved transition lines for Big Stone II last week.
  • Minnesota law requires that new power lines for a coal plant can only be approved when the applicant (usually a utility) proves that that costs less than using renewable energy or energy efficiency or some combination of the two.
  • If the permit is changed and accepted by the EPA it would likely raise the cost of the project. It would almost certainly change the cost. So according to MPR awesome local green group Fresh Energy plans to ask the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reconsider last weeks decision.

Her group will ask the PUC to reconsider its power line permit for Big Stone II. Taylor says the increased costs of the plant because of the air permit issue will be one of the issues the group raises. It’s possible the plant’s energy will cost more than renewables like wind power, she says.

In short, this is a big set back for Big Stone II and a big victory for environmental advocates but the fight is far from over. It does signal however that the EPA under President Obama (still feels amazing writing that) will be taking a much harder look at proposed coal plants then they did during the Bush era. That coupled with Obama’s “green dream team” and recent stimulus developments are very good for anyone who cares about the future of our planet.

Kudos to everyone involved in making this happen.

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9 Responses to Obama EPA blocks South Dakota Coal Power Plant

  1. paulm says:

    Joe your churning out so much material!

    As noted you dictate it…why don’t you post the audio along with the transcripts.

    That means I get to listen to your post while doing dinner.

    (Apple people can of course use the text-to-speech service on their Mac, but its much better hearing it from the horses mouth.)

    [JR: It is almost impossible for me to keep up with what is coming out.

    Note: I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I don’t dictate wholesale, but rather large chunks of text.]

  2. MikeB says:

    Obviously, we need to halt coal plants due to their negative effect on the atmosphere, so this is good news.

    However, I wonder if the recent spill from a coal ash holding pond has produced a new angle for these efforts? People are far more likely to respond to immediate threats of toxic chemicals in their water supply, which is exactly what’s brewing in TN. Even the most deluded global warming denier is going to think twice about millions of gallons of toxic sludge flowing down their local river.

  3. Greg N says:

    Golden days – so many inspirational announcements that even Joe can’t keep up!

  4. David B. Benson says:



  5. Kojiro Vance says:

    Not so fast sparky!

    This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. Environmentalists reject a cleaner coal plant so the operators are forced to keep a dirtier plant running longer.

    Big Stone 1 was built in the mid 1970s and has a heat rate of 10,600 BTU/kWh, for a thermal efficiency of about 32%.

    Big Stone 2 will have a heat rate of 8,900 for an efficiency of 38%. So Big Stone 2 will produce 16% more power using the same amount of coal.

    But actually it is better than than. If Big Stone 2 is approved the operator will install a new wet gas scrubber big enough to handle the emissions from both plants combined, further reducing emissions of both SO2 and particulates. (This partly explains why Big Stone 2’s heat rate isn’t even higher – it uses some of its power to clean up Big Stone 1.) Big Stone 2 emits 7 times less mercury than Big Stone 1.

    Both plants are slated to burn Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming, so no mountain tops will be harmed. When the operator has to idle back one of the plants, he is likely to cut rates at BS1, which has the higher fuel costs, thus producing less greenhouse gases than otherwise would have been made. If at some point in the future alternatives displace coal, the operator is more likely to shut down the older, less efficient BS1 plant.

    Now thanks to the Sierra Club and other progressives, BS2 is delayed even further meaning more pollution and more greenhouse gas.

    Rejecting new, cleaner coal plants does nothing to shut down the old inefficient ones, in fact it does the opposite. It forces utilities to run the dirty plants past their economic lives in order to avoid rolling blackouts.

  6. Kojiro Vance says:

    It continues.

    If BS2 is approved the two plants together will produce LESS pollution than the BS1 plant operating on its own. Today BS1 emits about 200 pounds of mercury annually in its stack emissions. If approved the two plants together, while producing twice as much power, will generate only 70-90 pounds of mercury.

    So in blocking BS2, environmentalists are condemning the residents downwind of BS1 to more pollution than is necessary.

  7. Karl says:

    Thanks for linking Joe. I’ll be keeping an eye on this to see what happens next.

  8. tmullins says:

    Clean coal is a myth. The extraction of clean coal by decapitating mountaintops and filling in valleys and streams is a SIN ! STOP THE BOMBING IN APPALACHIA !

  9. Kojiro Vance says:

    Big Stone gets its coal from Powder River basin in Wyoming and has absolutely nothing to do with mountaintop removal.

    But don’t let the facts get in the way of an emotional argument.