Sierra Club criticizes EPA’s decision on Dolet Hills coal plant emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to protect Louisiana communities from unsafe levels of sulfur dioxide pollution caused largely by coal-burning power plants, said the Sierra Club in a July 1 statement.

Although EPA had initially identified Cleco Power’s and American Electric Power’s jointly-owned Dolet Hills power plant as emitting dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution in the area surrounding the plant, the agency flip-flopped in response to industry pressure and declined to designate the area as out of compliance with the public health standard for sulfur dioxide, the club said. Pollution controls, which have been available for decades, could reduce the Dolet Hills plant’s SO2 emissions by as much as 98%, yet Cleco Power and AEP refuse to install modern controls and continue to burn high-sulfur lignite, the environmental group said.     

Woody Martin, chairperson for the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, said: “The Sierra Club is extremely disappointed that the EPA ignored substantial evidence demonstrating that Dolet Hills is causing air quality conditions that are unsafe because of high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution. EPA’s reversal is astonishing and will put the health of thousands of people at risk. It is a missed opportunity to hold Cleco Power and American Electric Power accountable for the massive amount of pollution they spew into the communities surrounding and downwind of Dolet Hills, and we will do everything we can to strengthen protections against this dangerous pollutant.” 

EPA’s June 30 finding for Lousiana, issued as part of a series of rulings under the SO2 portion of the 2010 National Ambient Air Quality Standards, said the DeSoto Parish area contains a stationary source that, according to the EPA’s Air Markets Database, emitted in 2012 either more than 16,000 tons of SO2, or more than 2,600 tons of SO2 and had an annual average emission rate of at least 0.45 pounds of SO2 per one million British thermal units (lbs SO2/mmBTU).

As of March 2, 2015, this stationary source has not met the criteria for being “announced for retirement.” Specifically, the Dolet Hills Power Station emitted 20,887 tons of SO2 in 2012, and had an emissions rate of 0.80 lbs SO2/mmBTU in 2012. Pursuant to a March 2015 consent decree, the EPA must designate the area surrounding the facility by July 2, 2016.

In its Sept. 18, 2015, original submission, Louisiana recommended that the area surrounding the Dolet Hills station, specifically the southeast quadrant of DeSoto Parish, be designated as unclassifiable based on information included in a monitoring siting report. The report assessed and characterized air quality for the facility and other nearby sources. The report did not follow the modeling guidelines in certain respects and only provided normalized estimates of impacts rather than absolute results, EPA said.

In EPA’s Feb. 11, 2016, notification to Louisiana regarding its intended nonattainment designation for the DeSoto Parish area, the EPA requested that any additional information that the agency should consider prior to finalizing the designation should be submitted by April 19, 2016.

After carefully considering all available data and information, the EPA is determining that the DeSoto Parish area is meeting the 2010 SO2 NAAQS, and therefore is designating the area as unclassifiable/attainment for the NAAQS.

Said EPA: “This designation is based on the modeling submitted by AEP which appropriately followed the Modeling TAD, used actual emission rates, stack temperatures, and velocities, downwash, seasonal/hourly SO2 background, included emissions from potentially contributing sources, and showed attainment with the 2010 primary SO2 standard. With the inclusion of more accurate stack parameters and downwash, this modeling more closely follows the Modeling TAD than previous Sierra Club modeling that EPA relied upon to propose the area around Dolet Hills as nonattainment and is therefore the best available information on which to base the EPA’s designation determination. At this time, our final designations for the state only apply to this area and the others contained in this final technical support document. Consistent with the court-ordered schedule, the EPA will evaluate and designate all remaining undesignated areas in Louisiana by either December 31, 2017, or December 31, 2020.”

The 650-MW Dolet Hills plant went into operation in 1986 and is fired with locally-mined lignite. Dolet Hills is co-owned by Cleco and AEP’s Southwestern Electric Power unit. Dolet Hills burns 3.5 million-4 million tons of lignite yearly.

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.