Enviro groups appeal renewed water permit for NRG’s Waukegan coal plant in Illinois

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network and Environmental Law & Policy Center on April 29 petitioned the Illinois Pollution Control Board for review of a March 25 decision of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to grant a renewed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to Midwest Generation LLC to discharge pollutants from its coal-fired Waukegan Generating Station into Lake Michigan.

“IEPA should not have reissued the final permit because it cannot assure compliance with the terms of the permit, with Illinois water quality standards, with the Clean Water Act or the Illinois Environmental Protection Act,” said appeal.

“The Waukegan Generating Station discharges thermal pollution, among other pollution, into Lake Michigan. Specifically, it discharges over five hundred million gallons of heated water into Lake Michigan per day, transferring over 5 billion BTUs of heat hourly. The resulting unnaturally warm water disrupts nearby aquatic ecosystems, and can even cause fatal heat shock to some organisms.

“Under Clean Water Act (‘CWA’) regulations, ‘No permit may be issued…When the conditions of the permit do not provide for compliance with the applicable requirements of CWA, or regulations promulgated under CWA’ or ‘When the imposition of conditions cannot ensure compliance with the applicable water quality requirements of all affected States.’ Every NPDES permit must comply with the Clean Water Act and regulations adopted thereunder. When writing an NPDES permit, IEPA must ‘ensure compliance with’ both technology- and water quality-based effluent limitations.

“On August 3, 1978, the Board issued an order in the proceeding PCB 77-82, In the Matter of: Proposed Determination of Thermal Standards for Zion and Waukegan Generating Stations. In that order, the Board granted the preceding owner of the Facility, Commonwealth Edison Company (‘Com Ed’), a thermal variance framed as an ‘alternative standard’ for thermal discharges from the Facility to Lake Michigan. Thermal variances issued pursuant to Clean Water Act § 316(a) expire upon expiration of the NPDES permit with which they are associated. The NPDES permit associated with the Facility’s 1978 thermal variance expired in 2000 upon IEPA’s issuance of a renewed NPDES permit. Neither the Board nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted to renew the thermal variance in conjunction with the 2000 NPDES permit renewal.”

The Illinois EPA attempted to renew the variance, but did not do it according to the law, so that variance does not apply to the Waukegan permit, said the appeal.

NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), which owns Midwest Generation, has said that it is adding dry sorbent injection for SO2 control at Waukegan Units 7-8. That means it does plan to keep them operating over the longer term. Units 7-8 (combined capacity of 689 MW nameplate) are the only operating coal units at Waukegan.

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.