SELC says emission figures are being shuffled

WISE COUNTY, VIRGINIA - Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) members want the state Air Pollution Control Board - not the Department of Environmental Quality - to have final say on whether Dominion Virginia Power gets a permit to build its proposed $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County.

An official with SELC also accuses Dominion of playing a "shell game" when it comes to air pollution emission figures because the company "shuffles" between what type of fuel it will burn to generate electricity, but Dominion officials disagree. "Dominion resents and is angered by the caustic, blatant false and irresponsible allegations made by the SELC," Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said.

Genest said the group's "cherry-picked" set of allegations disregards the truth and shows a complete lack of understanding of the Virginia air permitting process as well as the Clean Air Act.

"It is beneath the level of professionalism we would expect in a group that (proclaims) to be self-appointed experts," Genest said. According to a news release from the center, the sheer volume of people who attended and spoke at three public hearings about the permit is the reason the citizen-controlled air board should keep final authority in the matter rather than allowing DEQ staff to make the decision.

About 800 people attended the three public sessions, and more than 200 made verbal comments. Hundreds more have submitted written comments to DEQ. The DEQ will have the final say on the permit unless the air board decides to get involved.

The air board asked Dominion earlier to come up with a plan for the plant that would reduce proposed emission levels. "We have filed a petition that meets all of the federal and state requirements," Genest said. "DEQ and its staff are the professionals with the knowledge and the background to make this decision."

The Charlottesville-based SELC filed paperwork with DEQ on the last day the department is accepting public written comments on the 585-megawatt power plant proposal. The SELC news release indicated its filing, made on behalf of a coalition of groups opposed to the plant, accuses Dominion of "playing fast and loose" with air pollution projections.

According to the release, the group cites what it calls "serious deficiencies" in the permit application and that Dominion "shuffles between various types of fuel sources," which makes an analysis of the pollution impact "meaningless."

The company plans to burn Virginia coal, waste coal and biomass such as wood to generate electricity for its customers in northern areas of Virginia. The company maintains that burning waste coal will clean up the environment because acid runoff from the waste coal is dangerous. Critics say more mercury and sulfur is released in the burning of waste coal than in freshly harvested coal.

"We are asking the air board to hold Dominion responsible for its failure to provide an honest accounting of the pollution impacts of this plant," Sarah Rispin, SELC staff attorney, said in the news release. Genest said Dominion spent two years working to ensure the plant's emissions would be in strict accordance with DEQ and federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements, and the company has used input from both agencies in the planning process, he said.

As for the fuel shuffle allegations, Genest said the company has always said the plant would burn fuels readily available in Southwest Virginia, including Virginia coal, waste coal and biomass.

The technology selected for the plant was chosen in order to use those fuels, he said.

"Regardless of the fuel used, this station must meet the emission limits established by the air permits," Genest said. Rispin says in the news release that the company's pollution projections are not reliable because of what she calls Dominion's inadequate and inconsistent analysis.

"This is really a shell game Dominion is playing - they've changed the numbers from one page to the next, so it's anyone's guess what the impacts could be," Rispin said in the release. Genest disagrees.

"SELC's implications of a shell game are detestable and unconscionable," Genest said.

Dominion is accountable to federal, state and local governments as well as its shareholders and more - its customers, Genest said.

"To what is SELC accountable?" he asked. Those in favor of the power plant say the 75 permanent jobs the facility will create and hundreds more during the construction phase will boost the Wise County economy and add an extra $6 million in county revenue annually. Those against the plant say the potential health problems associated with power plant emissions are not worth the jobs and the revenue.


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