The state of Michigan has before it the opportunity to make a tremendously important decision with huge implications for the future of energy, public health, and climate change. The state Department of Environmental Quality has just closed the public comment period on a terribly flawed draft permit for a large new coal-fired power plant proposed by Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, Inc. As detailed in a 178-page comment letter submitted on behalf of a coalition of environmental organizations by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and the Sierra Club, the draft permit fails to comply with numerous requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and state laws. (The comment letter represents very impressive work by everyone involved, especially the attorneys of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago.)
I won’t even attempt to summarize in this post all of the flaws with the proposed permit explained in the 178-page letter. Some lowlights include the failure to require the necessary “Best Available Control Technology” for fine particulates and other pollutants that cause respiratory illness, asthma, and smog, and the failure to require the necessary “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contaminate our water and make fish to toxic to eat. For a great summary of these concerns and their public health implications, see this recent Detroit Free Press op-ed “Rush to coal could be hazardous to Michigan” authored by two of the state’s leading medical experts.
Not only does the draft permit fail to provide even the most basic protections for public health from the air pollution of a new coal-fired power plant, it ignores far bigger problems inherent in this decision. As any ten-year-old kid could tell you, we are facing an energy and climate crisis. There are many promising signs that we as a country will meet this challenge with a nationwide effort to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reductions in greenhouse gas pollutants. While we debate how to best go down this road, this must be the direction we go in from this moment on. It is ridiculous that Michigan is even considering allowing a new coal plant to be built and spew greenhouse gas pollution (not to mention other pollutants and toxins) for the next fifty years. Fortunately for all of us, the law is on our side. The Michigan Environmental Protection Act gives the state the ability and the duty to protect its natural resources from the avoidable pollution and degradation of a new coal-fired power plant. If state leaders lack the political will and sense to do the right thing, environmental groups are ready to go to court and force the right decision to be made.
While I certainly don’t mind a good lawsuit every now and then to make government come to its senses, let’s hope Michigan’s leaders figure this out on their own. Governor Granholm and the leaders of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and new Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth have said the right things about the direction the state must take to meet our energy and climate challenges. Now they have a great chance to back up those words with the right decision.