Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

Disenchantment spreads to Conservatives, last call for King America permit comments

Displeasure with the state’s “protection’ of our natural resources, specifically the Ogeechee River, has found strong voices among leading Conservatives in the last few weeks. Now State Senator Buddy Carter has joined the choir.

Yesterday the Albany Journal ran a letter from Carter in which he said the EPD has “earned a vote of no confidence” from the public and from him as well.

This week the volume was turned up by the Statesboro Herald in a strongly worded editorial. The paper spared no criticism for the EPD or King America Finishing, closing with, “We believe the EPD rightfully has earned a ton of distrust for its handling of King America’s role in the 2011 fish kill. The state agency can begin to regain its credibility as a responsible steward of the environment by demonstrating the health of the Ogeechee River is more important than the sustainability of the King America plant.”

Governor Nathan Deal took his head out of the sand long enough to tell the Statesboro paper that, “We know that we don’t want anything that’s going to pollute our waterways. We don’t want anything that’s going to make our state a worse place from the standpoint of environmental degradation.”

Make our state worse from the standpoint of environmental degradation? We are competing for the bottom of the list. I am afraid to say we can’t get any worse, but with the track record in the last few years, ineptitude among state leaders seems to rise to the challenge every time.

Tuesday the Peach Pundit weighed in with this, “Given the recent history, I find it difficult to be anything but cynical about the state’s ability to protect life in and along the river. My guess is that many who are calling now for stricter oversight will soon be demanding that King America Finishing be forced to shut down.”

Wednesday, May 15 is last call for comments on KAF permit! 

Citizens can comment on the latest King America permit through today at 5:00 p.m. Email your  comments to: EPDcomments@dnr.state.ga.us, with the words “NPDES permit reissuance King America Finishing (Dover Screven County)” in the subject line.

You don’t have to make it fancy, you just need to speak up. “Deny the NPDES permit reissuance for King America Finishing in Dover, Screven County, GA”  is just fine. Make sure you get your name and contact info on the email.

Why the Georgia EPD is toothless

This week started with Mary Landers at the Savannah Morning News reporting that employees at King American Finishing (KAF) were told to drink bottled water at work for the past six months. Tests of two wells at the company’s textile and chemical plant in Screven County found unacceptable levels of cadmium and phenanthrene (known to cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems). An attorney for KAF told Landers in an email that Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) ordered the company to switch to bottled water.

Landers contacted EPD Director Jud Turner, who said that the EPD had not issued that requirement.

Someone isn’t telling the truth.

Both the state and the Chicago based company keep telling concerned citizens that everything is okey dokey. But it isn’t.

Last night the Statesboro Herald reported that King America now says the initial water test results were wrong. Why should we believe KAF or, for that matter, the EPD?  Both have talked in circles for two years when tens of thousands of fish died in the Ogeechee, and people ended up in the hospital after swimming in polluted water.

What did the EPD tell 200 citizens during Tuesday night’s public comment session on a proposed permit for the plant? The Savannah Morning News reports that EPD official Jane Hendricks said, “Please understand that under the law EPD has a very limited ability to deny the permit.” The paper goes on to say that Hendricks said that the special conditions that can trigger a denial don’t apply in this case.

Based on newspaper and television coverage, that didn’t quell citizen outrage. They went ahead and took the EPD and King America to task for polluting the river, setting unreasonable discharge limits, failing to respond quickly to citizen complaints, making a mess of the water and wildlife, driving down property values, and hurting businesses based on river activities like boating and fishing.

But Ms. Hendricks’ statement that the EPD can’t easily deny a permit is telling on both  EPD and state leaders. If the EPD was really in the business of proactively protecting our natural resources, they would be all over state legislators each session asking them to put some teeth in their enforcement abilities.

And if state legislators wanted the EPD to protect our water and air, wildlife, drinking water, land, and swimming holes, they’d pass some laws that would empower the EPD to do just that.

In the end, they continue to do nothing. It doesn’t seem to matter how many fish die, how many citizens end up in the hospital after swimming in polluted water, how many people continue to boil water from their wells out of fear of the poisons that may be in it, or how many small businesses are crippled due to boaters, fishermen, and families who just don’t want to chance getting sick from whatever is lurking in our rivers and streams.

It does matter to the citizens and taxpayers. And we are tired of hearing, and feeding, a toothless guard dog barking on our porch.