OLYMPIA, Wash. - State legislation introduced on Wednesday takes a new approach to cleaning up pollution from Washington's only coal-fired power plant by helping the nearby community open its doors to new industry.
Conservation groups have long targeted the TransAlta coal-fired power plant in Centralia as the state's biggest single source of mercury pollution and greenhouse gases. House Bill 1825 is a plan for transitioning away from that coal power and those jobs, replacing them with new industries. It sets an ambitious timeline of only a few years, and includes funding sources to help make it all happen. The bill's sponsor is Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds.
"The focus in the bill is really more on the economic development, and what can we do to ensure that that economy stays strong and healthy, that those folks continue to have jobs as we move away from this older technology that needs to be replaced."
Doug Howell, the Sierra Club's "Coal-Free Future for Washington" campaign director, says the bill would support Centralia as it reinvents itself without coal and, in the process, improves air and water quality.
"It looks at what resources we can tap into to clean up the site and prepare it for new industry, and provide the community with resources to transition to bring in new industry. So, that's probably the centerpiece of this legislation."
Conservationists have been concerned that negotiations between TransAlta and the Washington Department of Ecology have produced some technology improvements at the plant, but no headway on eventually decommissioning it. TransAlta says the plant will cut its mercury emissions in half by next year, but Liias says burning coal is not in line with Washington's longer-term goals.
"I appreciate that they are cleaning up a dirty source of power as best they can, and they deserve credit for that. But when we look at the future of our state, I believe that we want 100 percent of our power to come from clean, safe, renewable energy - and that should be where we're moving toward."
The bill has its first hearing Feb. 15 in the State Legislature's House Environment Committee.