Sierra Club takes Midwest Gen to Illinois board on SO2 complaint

As if being in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection wasn’t enough grief for Midwest Generation LLC, the Sierra Club filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board that accused the company’s coal-fired plants of violating National Ambient Air Quality Standards for SO2.

Midwest Generation and several affiliates, including Edison Mission Energy, filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 17 at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois. On the same day, the complaint was received by the board.

Midwest Generation (MWG) owns and operates four coal-fired power plants in Illinois:

  • The Joliet #9 and #29 Generating Station. Joliet #9 is a 360 MW rated coal-fired unit, the complaint noted. Joliet #29 includes units 7 and 8, which are rated at 660 MW each.
  • The Powerton Generating Station, which includes Units 5 and 6, which are rated at 893 MW each.
  • The Waukegan Generating Station, which includes Units 7 and 8, rated at 326 MW and 355 MW, respectively.
  • The Will County Generating Station, which includes Units 3 and 4, rated at 299 MW and 598 MW, respectively.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that the existing National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2, which had not been modified since 1971, were inadequate to protect human health and established a more stringent NAAQS. Based on a correlation to impacts and concentrations of SO2 measured over a one-hour period, the EPA established the NAAQS at 75 parts per billion. The new 1-hour SO2 NAAQS went into effect in August 2010.

MWG, by emitting SO2 in amounts that exceed legal limits, threatens, or allows emissions that, either alone or in combination with SO2 emissions from other sources, cause ambient air quality to exceed the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS, which are set to protect human health and the environment, and therefore causes or tends to cause air pollution, said the complaint.

The Sierra Club asked the board to:

  • authorize a hearing in this matter at which time MWG will be required to answer to the allegations;
  • find and declare that MWG has violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s prohibitions on causing or threatening air pollution at its Joliet, Powerton, Waukegan, and Will County plants;
  • find and declare that MWG has violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s prohibition on violating the rules by emitting or threatening to emit air pollution that prevents the attainment or maintenance of the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS;
  • impose civil penalties;
  • order MWG to cease and desist from emissions that, alone or in combination with emissions from other sources, cause or threaten to cause violations of the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS, limit SO2 emissions to the hourly rates determined necessary to prevent any violation of the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS, and further reduce SO2 emissions to offset unlawful past SO2 emissions.

Midwest Generation, under the authority of a Combined Pollutant Standard worked out several years ago with the state of Illinois, has been sharply reducing SO2 and other emissions from its coal plants. It has more SO2 projects in the works, though it on Nov. 30 asked the board in an ongoing proceeding to let it delay an SO2-compliance deadline under the CPS for the years 2015 and 2016. It said this delay would save it $210m at a time of extreme financial distress.

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.