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Lawmakers Seek to 'Strip-Mine' Tax Break from WA Coal Plant

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Published on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 by Chris Thomas

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - A House version of a bill to eliminate a state tax exemption for Washington's only coal-fired power plant has been introduced in the state Legislature. The TransAlta Corporation, headquartered in Canada, receives a tax break that amounts to more than $4 million a year. There have been campaigns to clean up or shut down the Centralia plant in the past.

Sen. Eric Oemig (D-Kirkland) points out that the plant is the state's largest source of air pollution, and the money could be spent on cleaner alternatives.

"Here's a place where we're really violating our stated energy policies by subsidizing dirty energy and impacting the ability of these other renewables to compete."

The state has been in lengthy negotiations with TransAlta about the plant's pollution output, and environmental groups have complained they've been excluded from those discussions. Sen. Oemig decided not to wait to find out, before proposing an end to the tax break.

"Here we are a year later, with still no agreement. Next year and the year after that, we might be in the same situation. But, I can assure you that, if this bill passes, then next year, if we don't have an agreement, we at least are not still buying their coal."

The tax break was enacted in the 1990s in exchange for the plant burning locally mined coal. But, the Centralia coal mine closed in 2006, and TransAlta has continued to use the exemption, although its coal now comes from Montana and Wyoming. House bill 3077 introduced Thursday has 13 co-sponsors, while its companion bill in the Senate, 6573, has ten.

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