Obama’s EPA Places Brakes On New Coal Plants

On the second full day of the Barack Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has placed the brakes on two coal-fired power plant projects. The EPA “placed a hold on approval of Otter Tail Power’s proposed 500 MW Big Stone II coal-fired power plant in South Dakota.” The plant is sited at the Minnesota border to take advantage of South Dakota’s weaker environmental regulations. However, in a letter sent to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources yesterday — the final day for review — the EPA said the state “didn’t meet requirements under the Clean Air Act in part of its proposed permit for the plant.”

In a joint statement, Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club said the decision “likely spells the end of Otter Tail Power’s Big Stone II coal plant”:

At a minimum, Otter Tail Power will have to go back to the drawing board and redesign the project to incorporate the best and maximum available control technology for pollution like soot and smog. Sierra Club and Clean Water Action will be pushing for EPA to set limits also for carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming.

The EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board yesterday stayed another coal plant, the 1,500-megawatt Desert Rock Energy Station in Navajo Nation land in New Mexico. In its decision, the board agreed to “review an air permit the EPA approved in July” for the plant.


However, because of a last minute order by outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the EPA is currently enjoined from considering carbon dioxide pollution in coal plant permits. Johnson’s memorandum reversed to a November decision by the Appeals Board to block a coal plant for not considering global warming pollution.

The fate of these plants — and our climate — now rests in the hands of President Obama and his just-confirmed EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson. If they choose to do so, they can make the official finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger our health and welfare — a finding blocked for years by George W. Bush.