Buffett-owned company, Sierra Club lawsuit settlement endangers coal

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A settlement between a Warren Buffett-owned energy company and the Sierra Club over federal Clean Air Act violations will force the company to phase out coal burning at seven coal-fired boilers, bringing the the total number of coal plants retirements or announced to retirements to 130 plants since 2010.

Last year, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against MidAmerican Energy, arguing that the company violated the Clean Air Act by emitting more pollution than its permits allowed at three of its Iowa coal plants.

KSCJ reports that MidAmerican settled with the Sierra Club to avoid imposing costs on consumers and agreed to stop burning coal in boilers at two plants by 2016. The company also promised to operate another facility with natural gas and clean up coal boilers at another plant. MidAmerican will also construct a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

“This is great news for the people of Iowa and another important victory for the Beyond Coal campaign,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose philanthropy group has given $50 million to the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign.

According to the Sierra Club, this settlement brings the number of coal plant retirements or announced retirements to 130 — more than 50,000 megawatts. Only one new coal plant has broken ground since November 2008.

“Coal’s days are numbered here in Iowa,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, Chapter Energy Chair of the Sierra Club in Iowa. “Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier.”

MidAmerican Energy, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathway group, has been acquiring more renewable energy assets over the past couple of years — most recently buying the largest solar power project in the world — now holding more than 1,830 megwatts in renewable energy assets.

MidAmerican Energy is also the “largest owner of wind installations among rate-regulated utilities in the nation,” according to the Sierra Club. However, the group said it will be targeting other parts of Buffett’s energy holdings that burn and supply coal — Pacificorp, the operator and owner of six coal-fired power plants, and the BNSF Railway Company, which is the largest shipper of coal in the U.S.

“Pacificorp continues to be a laggard on clean energy and BNSF is one of the very worst actors when it comes to lobbying and promoting expanded coal use nationally and internationally,” Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Over the coming months we will be stepping up our engagement with Paciforp and BNSF to urge them to follow the examples of other forward-looking parts of Mr. Buffett’s holdings.”

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