Lawsuit filed over emissions from Tri-State’s Craig coal plant

WildEarth Guardians on Dec. 16 filed suit against Colorado air regulators, challenging their delay in forcing Tri-State Generation and Transmission to cut air pollution at the Craig coal-fired power plant.

“Colorado’s delay has given Tri-State a sweetheart deal, the ability to freely pollute the air with its coal-fired power plant and with no public oversight,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director, in a Dec. 17 statement. “This isn’t just illegal under the Clean Air Act, this unchecked coal pollution is a threat to our health and our clean energy future.” 

Craig is a 1,339-MW plant consisting of three coal-fired boilers (called Units 1-3) and three smokestacks. WildEarth Guardians said it is the state of Colorado’s largest source of NOX emissions, which form smog, haze, and fine particle pollution, as well as the state’s largest source of carbon emissions.

The Dec. 16 lawsuit follows an appeal filed in federal court by WildEarth Guardians in late February, challenging Tri-State’s alleged failure to install up-to-day emissions controls to limite regional haze.

Focal point of the lawsuit is the plant’s operating permit

At issue in the new lawsuit is the state’s alleged failure to ensure that Tri-State is operating the Craig coal-fired power plant under a Clean Air Act “operating permit.” These permits incorporate all applicable pollution limits and impose strict monitoring, recordkeeping, and public reporting requirements, which ensure the citizens and regulators like are informed and aware of a polluter’s compliance status.

“An operating permit is like a user’s manual for a source of air pollution, it provides a detailed guide ensuring the public and the polluter alike understand what clean air requirements apply and how to operate in compliance with those requirements,” said Nichols. “No permit, no guide, and no accountability. That’s the problem we’re aiming to solve by filing our lawsuit.”

If a permit is issued by a state and fails to assure that a polluter operates in compliance with the Clean Air Act, citizens can petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to object and compel the state to fix the permit.

Tri-State obtained an operating permit in 2005, but the permit only included two of the plant’s three smokestacks (for Units 1 and 2), the environmental group claimed. In 2009, Tri-State applied to the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division to renew its operating permit for Units 1 and 2. In 2010, Tri-State applied to incorporate Unit 3. To date, Unit 3 has yet to be incorporated into an operating permit, the lawsuit said.

To date, the Division has yet to issue or deny a new operating permit for the Craig Generating Station. In the meantime, Tri-State has been allowed to freely operate because of its submitted permit applications, said WildEarth Guardians.

The Dec. 16 suit, filed in Moffat County in the 14th District Court of Colorado, seeks to compel the state to issue or deny a new operating permit for the plant without delay.

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.