Olympia, WA- Another chapter has been written in the history of sweetheart deals between Washington government officials and operators of the state’s worst pollution source. Gov. Chris Gregoire and her Department of Ecology have proposed totally inadequate protections for our children and public places against the grave threats posed by TransAlta’s dirty coal plant.
The TransAlta coal plant is the state’s largest source of air pollution. “The proposed agreement wholly fails to protect Washington’s families from the devastating contamination wrought by TransAlta,” said Cherie Eichholz, Executive Director of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It is the state’s duty to protect our children and grandchildren with reasonable regulations concerning mercury and other contaminants; we simply cannot afford to sit idly by while future generations are daily poisoned, leaving scars which may last a lifetime.”
Although the proposed agreement mentions optional reductions in the coal plant’s toxic mercury emissions, public health groups criticize loopholes in the plan which would prevent the state from enforcing these reductions and could lead to the coal plant avoiding any reductions in mercury pollution. While harmful to everyone, women and children are especially susceptible to harm from exposure to mercury. Nationally the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that already one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put a baby at risk of cognitive or developmental damage.
The state’s announced determination also provides no new controls on the coal plant’s nitrogen oxide pollution which causes haze and also hurts public health. The state chose to not require high-quality haze controls despite the National Park Service’s determination that the TransAlta plant adversely impacts haze in more national parks and wilderness areas than any other source in the country and has identified Mt. Rainier national park as being especially damaged by the coal plant’s pollution.
Though the state’s determination sidesteps climate change implications, the TransAlta plant’s future cannot be considered without addressing the 9 million tons of greenhouse gas it annually spews intoWashington skies. “Not including global warming pollution in this public comment period is short sighted and unfair to the people of Washington” said Greenpeace NW Organizer Sofia Gidlund.
“The TransAlta coal plant is the state’s largest single source of global-warming pollution,” said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. “We have to quickly move our electric power system away from coal to have any chance of meeting our climate goals and our responsibilities to our world and our descendants. We have plenty of clean energy potential – affordable and attainable energy efficiency and new renewable resources – to replace TransAlta’s dirty power.”
This is the first movement towards enacting the pollution deal since public demand for a more transparent process stalled the signing of the agreement shortly after it was reached in April, 2009. The announcement today marks the start of a 60 day comment period to finalize the pollution agreement, with a single hearing planned to be held on October 13 in Lacey, WA. This is the first time that the public has been allowed to participate in this process, however public interest groups criticize that the opportunities for public involvement are too limited. “Pollution from this coal plant effects the lives of every resident of Washington, it is imprudent and irresponsible to limit public discourse to a single public hearing held in a remote and inaccessible location” said Sierra Club Senior NW Representative Doug Howell.