Clean energy groups protest Centralia TransAlta coal plant

OLYMPIA – A campaign by clean energy groups to shut down the Centralia coal-fired power plant by 2015 staged five events statewide Tuesday, including one at the Capitol Campus and another at a state Department of Ecology hearing in Lacey.

The Coal-Free Washington campaign coordinated by the Sierra Club has identified the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia as the single largest stationary source of global warming gases, mercury and nitrogen oxide pollution in the state.

“We’re not paying the true costs of the energy from this coal plant,” said Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist and president of the state chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He cited a National Academy of Science report that pegged the health care costs associated with TransAlta’s pollution at $11.2 million a year.

An air quality agreement reached in June between the state and TransAlta calls on the Alberta, Canada-based company to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 20 percent and mercury pollution by 50 percent by Dec. 31, 2012.

The company will spend up to $30 million on emissions-cutting technology to meet the deadline, company spokeswoman Marcy McAuley said in June. That’s on top of more than $200 million already spent to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the plant.

The coal plant owner’s actions aren’t enough, said Doug Howell of the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Washington campaign.

“TransAlta needs to know that we will protect our people and parks, not its pollution profits,” Howell said.

He said the region has enough renewable energy resources and potential energy conservation projects to replace the power the coal plant produces nearly 10 times over.

Coal plant foes also gathered at an Ecology hearing Tuesday night on a state plan to combat regional haze that causes health problems, damages plants and water quality in lakes and streams, and obscures views in national parks and wilderness areas.

The federal Clean Air Act requires states to adopt plans to curb haze-producing pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide from vehicles, smoke, industrial power plants and other sources.

“TransAlta is the largest single source of nitrogen oxides, but a small piece of that pie at 4 percent of the total,” Ecology spokesman Seth Preston noted, adding that motor vehicles are the largest source of haze-producing pollution at 56 percent.

New federal fuel efficiency rules for on-road and off-road vehicles are expected by 2018 to reduce vehicle emissions of five major air pollutants 25 percent to 95 percent, according to the Ecology plan.

Climate change is likely to alter the air pollution picture, according to the Ecology plan. Climate change models predict a drier Pacific Northwest, which could lead to more wildfires, thus more smoke, in the future.

In addition, Ecology’s analysis shows that air quality in the state is significantly altered by air pollution that originates in other regions of the world. Outside sources are expected to increase over the next 50 years.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com.