Illinois EPA withdraws controversial coal gasification project permit

Short-circuiting an appeal by environmental groups, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency told the U.S. Environmental Appeals Board on July 9 that it is withdrawing the contested air permit for the Christian County Generation LLC coal gasification project, which is backed by power developer Tenaska.

The board, which is an arm of the U.S. EPA, has gotten an appeal of the permit on May 30 from Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. In the July 9 withdrawal notice, the Illinois EPA noted the board had not yet entered an order granting review of the permit in this proceeding. Illinois EPA said that under authority given it by the U.S. EPA, it has the power to withdraw this final Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit.

“This action will allow for further consideration of the permitting decision, including, but not limited to, elements of the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) analysis,” said the withdrawal notice. “The Illinois EPA plans to consult with both representatives of the USEPA and the Permittee during this reconsideration process. A reissuance of the permit will be subject to any applicable requirements for additional public comment and hearing.”

Despite the fact that Tenaska has said it plans to shelve the coal gasification part of Christian County Generation’s Taylorville Energy Center power project, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club on May 30 had appealed the air permit. The Illinois EPA had issued the permit on April 30 just before project developer Tenaska said it would shelve the coal gasification part of the project in favor of just firing the plant with regular natural gas, at least in the plant’s early years.

The state-issued permit authorizes Tenaska affiliate Christian County Generation to construct the Taylorville Energy Center, a coal-derived synthetic natural gas (SNG) facility and an associated power block in Taylorville, Ill.

“Petitioners contend that IEPA’s best available control technology (‘BACT’) determination for the facility was clearly erroneous as a matter of law in violation of the Clean Air Act (‘CAA’), and additionally raises important policy considerations that the Board should review, in four major respects,” said the appeal.

  • First, IEPA dismissed out of hand the feasibility of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology in Step 2 of its BACT determination based on “general and unsubstantiated assertions of uncertainty,” said the appeal. In so doing, IEPA failed to follow BACT’s case-by-case statutory requirements, as well as U.S. EPA guidance requiring a full site specific inquiry into the feasibility of CCS for large-scale projects like Taylorville.
  • Second, IEPA dismissed cleaner low-sulfur western coal as a basis for BACT based on an Illinois statute effectively granting a subsidy for facilities using high-sulfur Illinois coal, thereby unlawfully circumventing federal BACT requirements concerning consideration of clean fuels based on state law, in contravention of the Supremacy Clause, the appeal said.
  • Third, the appeal said IEPA rejected available and feasible controls for leaking components based on arbitrary and deficient cost effectiveness analysis.
  • Fourth, IEPA’s modeling analysis was “fundamentally arbitrary and capricious” because IEPA failed to conduct ozone modeling and, instead, relied on the Scheffe Tables to estimate ozone emissions even though the U.S. EPA has denounced that method, the groups said.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.