On March 30, the U.S. Department of Justice lodged in court a proposed stipulation to modify a Consent Decree that had originally been approved in 2013 by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in a lawsuit against Wisconsin Public Service Corp.
The original Consent Decree resolved alleged violations of the New Source Review and Title V provisions of the Clean Air Act at two coal-fired power plants owned and operated by Wisconsin Public Service (WPS): the Weston plant located in Marathon County, Wisconsin; and the Pulliam plant located in Brown County, Wisconsin.
In a notice to be published in the April 7 Federal Register, Justice said the proposed modifications would:
- facilitate the utility’s decision to convert a unit at the Weston plant from burning coal to natural gas, thereby reducing particulate matter (PM) emissions such that the operation of certain PM controls at that unit is no longer necessary to achieve the PM reductions secured by the decree;
- replace a hydroelectric environmental mitigation project that was deemed unworkable with a new land acquisition and restoration project and an expansion of an existing wood stove replacement program; and
- revise and update certain administrative notice and certification requirements.
The proposed stipulation has been agreed to by all parties, but can only be effective upon approval of the court. Justice has asked the court to hold off on any decision until it can hold a 30-day comment period on the changes that begins on April 7. At the end of the public comment period, Justice will file a motion with the court to advise of any comments received and its position as to whether the proposed stipulation should be approved by the court.
The decree, among other things, required the utility to retire, refuel or repower Weston Unit 2 by June 1 of last year. To address changed circumstances, following entry of the decree, the parties have agreed to certain modifications to the decree provisions related to PM emission reductions and controls applicable to Weston Unit 2, the Projects
To comply with the decree, WPS converted Unit 2 to combust natural gas in 2015. Weston Unit 2 was equipped with an Electrostatic Precipitator (ESP) to control PM emissions from the unit when combusting coal. The ESP on Weston Unit 2 was not physically removed when the unit was refueled to natural gas. Uncontrolled PM emissions from natural gas combustion, however, are significantly lower than controlled PM emissions from coal combustion, such that operation of the ESP is no longer needed to achieve the environmental benefits secured by the decree. The plain language of the decree, however, would require operation of the ESP.
To address this, the parties have agreed to modify the decree in two respects: impose a new PM limit of 0.010 lb/mmBTU for Weston Unit 2 and any other unit that is refueled to natural gas in the future; and provide a one-time performance testing requirement for refueled units.
Also under the decree, WPS prepared and submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval a plan to implement a Hydro Boost Project, designed to increase efficiency at an existing hydro facility. Following submittal of this plan, EPA determined that this project could not be approved due to consistency issues with its Green Power Partnership. In lieu of undertaking the required Hydro Boost Project, the parties have agreed on a substitute project pursuant to which WPS will spend $2 million on acquisition and restoration of ecologically significant lands, watersheds, vegetation, and/or forests that are part of, adjacent to, or near the Barkhausen Water Fowl Preserve in Brown County, Wisconsin. The Barkhausen Water Fowl Preserve is a 920 acre park on the west shore of Green Bay.