Ryan J. Foley
Madison — Four construction projects at state-run power plants dating to 1995 violated the Clean Air Act by increasing pollution without installing required controls, according to a state report.
A 2007 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club raised questions about whether state officials were following the act’s requirements to obtain permits for construction at state plants and install equipment to cut emissions.
Under a legal settlement with the environmental group, the Department of Administration was required to check more than 25 projects dating back to 1995 for compliance.
The review, obtained this month by The Associated Press through an open records request, found three projects at Capitol Heat and Power in Madison and one at a plant in Waupun violated the act’s requirements.
The state is already moving to fix the violations at both plants by studying cleaner alternatives than coal to run them.
The study found all other projects were routine maintenance that would not have required permits and tighter controls. But that conclusion has drawn criticism from the Sierra Club, which claims the study was not thorough enough and that other plants remain in violation of the act.
In recent weeks, the Sierra Club has argued in public documents that plants at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire should be required to install pollution controls. The Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the group’s comments.
Sierra Club lawyer David Bender said Monday the state’s review downplayed the scope of problems in the past. He said the review used a method to measure whether projects increased pollution that is not accepted by regulatory agencies and missed some pollution increases.
In other cases, the report did not give enough information to prove projects were routine and exempt from the act’s requirements, he said.
Sierra Club spokeswoman Jennifer Feyerherm noted the group has the option of returning to federal court to enforce the settlement but stopped short of threatening to do so.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Linda Barth blasted the Sierra Club for questioning whether the state had done enough to fix its plants under the settlement.
“We find it very frustrating that the Sierra Club is more interested in creating a controversy where one does not exist to get a day’s worth of headlines rather than return our good faith effort,” she said.
She stood by the review, which identified the projects not in compliance as:
- a $6.75 million project to replace water pumps and pipes and add a new cooling tower at Capitol Heat, which powers the Capitol and other state office buildings. The changes increased fuel use and associated air emissions.
- a $720,000 replacement of controls on two boilers that increased their capacity at Capitol Heat.
- a $2.3 million addition of two new 800-ton chillers and related modifications to provide increased air conditioning capacity by 30 percent at Capitol Heat.
- a $1 million replacement of coal feeders at the Waupun Central Generating Plant, which powers a state prison. Potential emissions increased drastically as a result, the study found.