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Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009 03:39 pm

Capitol coal plant exceeds pollution limits

IEPA says plant went over in 2007, 2008

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Mounds of coal await burning in Springfield's Capitol Complex Power Plant.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE


The state Capitol’s steam plant exceeded limits on some pollutants in 2007 from its coal-burning boilers, and it may still be polluting too much.

Located on Klein Street north of the Capitol, the Capitol Complex Power Plant burns coal, oil and natural gas to heat and cool the Capitol complex. Despite its name, it does not supply the Capitol with electricity. IT first wrote about the plant in September. (See “The state’s dirty little secret,” by R.L. Nave, Sept. 3, 2009.)

Like all coal plants, the Capitol plant must operate under a “fee limit,” which dictates how much they pay for the pollution they create. Jim Ross, manager of the EPA’s division of air pollution control, said the plant violated its fee limits, not the actual pollution limits set by law.

In 2007, the plant belched more than three times its allowance for PM2.5 (particulate pollution smaller than 2.5 microns). The plant’s limit on PM2.5 was 4.86 tons in 2007, but it reportedly emitted 15.23 tons that year.

Particulate pollutants have been linked to health problems like asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer, as well as damage to waterways, soil and crops, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An April 2008 inspection report says the plant also emitted too much volatile organic matter, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants in 2007.

In a compliance report from December 2008, former plant manager Bret Stone indicated the facility was in continuous compliance, except for the failure of a machine that monitors emissions opacity. The report does not mention the plant’s emissions in excess of the fee limits.

IEPA had not provided IT with the plant’s 2008 emissions data, more than two months after IT filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the numbers.

During its annual inspection in January 2009, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found the plant to be in violation of fee limits again.

The plant’s management has requested a 15 percent increase in fee limits, according to the report. The state would pay more for its pollution privileges, though the increased limits would not be enough to cover the type of overage that occurred with particulate pollution in 2007.

The Capitol coal facility has also operated for more than two years with no license from IEPA. The facility’s previous permit expired April 22, 2008, and a new permit still has not been issued. An application for a renewed permit was received by IEPA in September of 2007.

Meanwhile, the plant renewal application serves as its permit, according to Ross.

“The Illinois EPA has a pending renewal application in house for this facility that is being processed,” Ross said via e-mail.“The company is required to operate pursuant to the terms and conditions of their previous permit until final action is taken on the pending renewal application. Due to limited resources, the processing of permit applications can take time before final action is taken.”

Ross also said the plant management likely calculates the facility’s emissions incorrectly, resulting in discrepancies between IEPA’s estimates and the emissions reported by plant management.

“We believe our emissions estimates are accurate,” Ross said.

And while the data show the plant exceeded its allowance of microscopic particulate pollution, it also operates without devices that reduce noxious gases like sulfur dioxide, a contributor to acid rain.

Ross says the plant’s gas emissions even without scrubbers are less than larger facilities like CWLP’s power plants, which do have scrubbers.

Verena Owen, chair of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, says that’s beside the point. The Capitol plant, Owen says, is just one of many small coal plants around the state that are not required to have scrubbers – and the pollution adds up.

“I think any additional pollution is harmful,” she said. “You have to look at the cumulative effect of these plants.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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