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Coalition Will Sue on Plant: Lead Environmental Group Warns: ‘This is Just the Beginning’

July 8, 2008

By Greg Edwards and Rex Springston, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

Jul. 8—-

Environmental groups will file legal challenges this month to a $1.8 billion coal-burning power plant Dominion Virginia Power is building in Wise County.

The utility responded: “Any attempt to delay the [plant] is an effort to delay reliable energy and cleaner air for Virginia.”

A coalition of environmental and other groups said yesterday it will fight on two fronts. At the Virginia Supreme Court, it will challenge the State Corporation Commission’s approval of the plant, and in a yet-to-be chosen local circuit court, it will contest the plant’s state-issued, air-pollution permits.

“The legal fight begins now. This is just the beginning,” said Cale Jaffe, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville.

Jaffe said Dominion Virginia Power had recklessly put itself and its customers at risk when it began construction of the plant last week “with the legal ground still unsettled.”

It is possible ratepayers could get stuck with the bill for work on a plant that cannot be completed, said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter. The opposition to the plant is part of a broader, nationwide effort to halt the use of coal to produce energy, he said.

The utility said construction of the Wise plant is tied to an agreement to convert from coal to natural gas its Bremo power plant in Fluvanna County. As a result, the two plants will emit less sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury than the Bremo plant does today.

The utility said the projects also will address release of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide through use of biomass fuel, lower Bremo emissions and a commitment to carbon-dioxide capture and storage technology once it is available.

Environmentalists argue that the state should not have approved permits for the plant without requiring controls on emissions of carbon dioxide, which scientists say contributes to global warming.

Jaffe cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a basis for the legal challenge of the permits. He noted decisions against coal-burning plants in Kansas and Georgia.

The permits also fall short in regulating mercury, a toxin, and fail to take into account the potential release of 60 other hazardous pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, Jaffe said.

Opponents also will challenge in the Virginia Supreme Court the State Corporation Commission’s approval of the project.

The challenge to the plant’s certificate of need issued by state regulators this year will center on the constitutionality of a 2004 law that declared construction of a plant to burn Southwest Virginia coal would be in the public interest, Jaffe said.

Other opponents argued yesterday that the plant and its commitment to burn Virginia coal could lead to more mountain-top strip mining in Virginia. A fourth of Wise County, an area twice the size of Roanoke, already has been strip mined, said Mike McCoy of the group Appalachian Voices. Contact Greg Edwards at (804) 649-6390 or gedwards@timesdispatch.com.

Contact Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453 or rspringston@timesdispatch.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

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