Conservation Groups Ask Federal Agencies to Address Coal Plant Pollution in Washington State

Date:   June 24, 2009
Contact:   Kathleen O'Neil, Associate Director, Media Relations, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.419.3717

Conservation Groups Ask Federal Agencies to Address Coal Plant Pollution in Washington State

Power Plant Causes Haze in Mount Rainier, Olympic National Parks

Washington, D.C. - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Sierra Club, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and the Washington Wildlife Federation today petitioned the Department of Interior (DOI) to certify that pollution from the coal-fired Centralia Power Plant is causing haze and poor visibility in Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington. Centralia also contributes to visibility problems in 10 other congressionally-designated Class I protected areas in the region, and the Columbia River Gorge.

As quoted in local media, the National Park Service has said the Centralia power plant causes the greatest impact on visibility in national parks and wilderness areas of any coal-fired power plant in the entire United States. A certification of impairment by the National Park Service would require the state of Washington to work with federal agencies to reduce the harm, including visibility problems, caused by emissions from the Centralia coal plant.

“Smog and haze from nearby coal fired plants can be reduced,” said Sean Smith, National Parks Conservation Association policy director. “This petition will go a long way toward better preserving the environment of our parks, while protecting the way of life of northwest citizens.”

Governor Gregoire and the state Department of Ecology began private negotiations with TransAlta in 2007 to determine which technology should be installed at the plant to reduce nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions. Unfortunately, the Park Service was not consulted during the discussions, and in March, the state announced that TransAlta can simply continue burning low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal rather than make real pollution reductions by installing pollution control technology. 

The goals set by the state fall short of those required by other states. Washington state essentially agreed to allow TransAlta to do nothing further to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, and to reduce mercury by 50 percent, compared to 55 percent nitrogen oxide and 90 percent mercury reduction targets set by other states. The National Parks Conservation Association and the other petitioners believe that the state’s proposal is insufficient to reduce the harm caused by Centralia’s emissions.

“Centralia’s emissions obscure priceless views with a brown haze, and degrade air quality for residents and ecosystems,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Counsel for the National Parks Conservation Association. “TransAlta and the state of Washington now have the opportunity to better protect our national treasures by reducing the damaging amount of nitrogen oxides emitted, and it is our hope that they do so.”

The 1,400 megawatt plant, owned by the Canada-based, multi-national TransAlta Corporation, is located approximately 50 miles from both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, and is Washington’s largest source of nitrogen oxides, emitting approximately 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides per year. TransAlta’s own regional haze models have shown that the plant’s pollution is causing or contributing to haze in a dozen Class I protected areas and the Columbia River Gorge.

Nitrogen oxide also contributes to ozone formation, and can cause lung irritation. When combined with moisture in the air, nitrogen oxides form nitric acid, which can corrode metal and contributes to acid rain. This pollution contributes to, or as is the case for Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, causes scenic horizons to be compromised by haze.

“In arriving at unconscionably low pollution reduction targets for the Centralia plant, Washington state arbitrarily excluded concerned citizens, as well as local and federal agencies,” said Mark Riskedahl, Executive Director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. “It is time for the state to heed the pressing concerns of federal experts, and to require aggressive pollution reduction.”

In 1995, the U.S. Department of the Interior certified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the Centralia plant was responsible for haze at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. At the time, the federal government determined that pollution controls on sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, but not nitrogen oxides, should be required. NPCA’s petition asks the federal government to supplement its 1995 certification based on subsequent information showing that emissions of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides from the Centralia Power Plant continue to dramatically impair visibility in the parks. 

“Mt. Rainier is our Washington State icon symbolizing the awesome beauty that Northwesterners revere,” said Doug Howell, senior representative of the Sierra Club. “This icon, as well as other natural treasures, are under assault by the most egregious polluter in the state -TransAlta’s coal plant - the number one polluter of mercury, haze, soot and global warming.  This Canadian multi-national corporation must be held accountable for the harm it causes in our backyard.”



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