Environmentalists, EPA Force The 200th US Coal Plant To Retire

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

A lawsuit brought by environmentalists and federal regulators has forced a major utility to phase out coal use at six power plants in Iowa. Activists claim these retirements bring the total number of U.S. coal plants shut down to 200 — or 40 percent of the U.S. coal plant fleet.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department of Justice announced an Iowa subsidiary of Alliant Energy agreed to pay $7.1 million in civil penalties to environmental projects for violating the Clean Air Act. The settlement also requires the company to stop burning coal or shut down six power plants in Iowa and pay $620 million to upgrade the plants.

“This settlement is a victory for air quality and public health in Iowa,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said in a statement. “This agreement will cover all of Interstate’s coal-burning facilities in Iowa, requiring new pollution cutting technology and environmental projects to enhance air quality in surrounding communities, among other lasting benefits.”

Federal officials, however, had lots of help from environmental activist lawyers in retiring Alliant’s coal plants. The Sierra Club filed suit against the company along with the Iowa and the county of Linn, alleging Alliant’s plants had emitted more pollution than was allowed by federal permits.

“The days of coal-fired power plants putting Americans at risk are coming to an end,” Sierra Club President Michael Brune said in a statement. “In Iowa and across the country, people are demanding clean air and clean water—and they are winning.”

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have been actively sueing existing coal plants for alleged Clean Air Act violations and lobbying regulators to put harsher restrictions, effectively banning new coal plants from being built. Since 2010, the group has forced many coal plant operators to close down or use natural gas and green energy.

Currently, the Sierra Club is pushing for the U.S. to get 100 percent of its energy from green sources, like solar and wind, to fight global warming. Its anti-coal crusade is being funded, in part, by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who was also excited to see the Iowa coal plants phased out.

“Every step we take to reduce coal use helps Americans breathe easier, and the 200th coal plant to announce its retirement since the launch of the Beyond Coal Campaign is a great milestone for public health and for the environment,” Michael Bloomberg said of the retirements.

Bloomberg has so far given $80 million to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign — which has the goal of retiring “one-third of the nation’s more than 500 coal plants by 2020.” It looks like they’ve already surpassed their goal based on the new Alliant Energy settlement.

Critics of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign have pointed out Bloomberg’s funding came after the eco-group stopped taking money from Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company. The natural gas giant paid the Sierra Club $26 million over three years to fight coal plants.

The Sierra Club admitted to taking money from the natural gas giant in 2012 after a leadership change. After the admission, the Club started a “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign to save its image.

“Exempting the natural gas industry from environmental protections was a terrible idea,” Brune wrote in an open apology letter in 2012. “It looks even dumber today, when the real risks that natural gas drilling poses to water supplies and critical watersheds are that much more apparent.”

The Sierra Club isn’t the only force going against coal plants. EPA regulations are also making power plant operators shutter coal-fired generators. Energy experts predict that current and pending EPA rules will shutter 90 gigawatts of coal power in the coming years.

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Tags : epa iowa justice department michael bloomberg michael brune sierra club
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