Department of Ecology News Release - April 9, 2009

09-082

Setting the record straight on the public review process for state's proposed agreement with TransAlta to reduce toxic air pollution

OLYMPIA – Contrary to recent media reports, a proposed agreement between the state of Washington and a power plant owner will undergo extensive public review.

The proposed agreement outlines how TransAlta will voluntarily reduce mercury emissions and cut nitrogen oxide emissions from its Centralia-area coal-fired power plant.

The public review process was kicked off March 31. Ecology held a public meeting to describe the proposed agreement to individuals and organizations interested in the operation of TransAlta’s plant.

Within the next several weeks, Ecology will begin a formal 30-day comment period and hold a public hearing on the TransAlta proposal. As with any proposed regulatory action, public comments could lead to changes in the proposal.

In advance of the formal comment period, Ecology will release the final language of the proposed agreement as well as all technical documents related to the proposed state regulatory order on nitrogen oxide reductions.

Recent media reports criticized the mediation process used by the state of Washington and the electricity generating company. Some also criticized the state for not securing greater reductions in mercury emissions from TransAlta.

The company voluntarily agreed to lower its mercury emissions by up to 50 percent by 2012, beginning this year.

At this time, neither Washington nor federal authorities have regulations to require coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions. TransAlta’s offer to reduce such emissions is entirely voluntary.

The state spent nearly two years working to develop a rule on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. If approved, the rule would have required TransAlta to reduce mercury pollution into the air, but the rule didn’t go into effect. In February 2008, a federal district court threw out the federal rule on which the state’s draft rule was based.

At TransAlta’s request, the state and the company originally began the mediation process in fall 2007 to discuss a variety of environmental issues that threatened to result in costly, time-consuming litigation.

Although mediation is used infrequently, Washington, other states and federal regulatory agencies sometimes use mediation when there are compelling reasons to avoid litigation. Mediation is an attempt to resolve issues without resorting to expensive, time-consuming litigation.

For example:

When the state of Washington engages in mediation over environmental requirements, resulting agreements are contingent on completion of any required public review, and subject to change based on the public review.

In the case of TransAlta air emissions, any agreement on the proposed reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions is subject to final approval by EPA. That’s because EPA has ordered states to reduce regional haze on federal lands such as national parks and wilderness areas; nitrogen oxide is a key contributor to regional haze.

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Media Contacts:
Dave Workman, Ecology communications director, 360-407-7004; dwor461@ecy.wa.gov
Seth Preston, Ecology communications manager, 360-407-6848; 360-584-5744 cell; spre461@ecy.wa.gov