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Court rules in power plant emissions case

By Paul Snyder

An appeals court Thursday confirmed its ruling the state did not set strong enough pollution controls before granting construction permits for the Weston 4 power plant.

The District 4 Court of Appeals in May ruled the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources set appropriate limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the $774 million plant. But the court also ruled the DNR failed to limit visible emissions such as fine particulates, sulfuric acid and sulfur from the plantís smokestack.

The court repeated that ruling Thursday.

The state wanted the court to reverse its ruling on the visible emissions, said Wisconsin Department of Justice spokesman Bill Cosh, because state officials believe the pollution limits set in the 2004 construction permit for Wisconsin Public Service Corp. are sufficient.

Cosh said the issue might now go to the state Supreme Court.

“We need to make a decision in consultation with the DNR,” he said about a further appeal. “We just don’t know yet.”

The DNR’s staff attorney working on the case, Tom Steidl, was unavailable for comment.

The Sierra Club in 2006 sued the DNR, WPS and Dairyland Power Cooperative over the permit. A circuit court in 2009 ruled the state set appropriate pollution levels before approving construction.

The Sierra Club appealed that decision, and now might join its opponent in appealing to the Supreme Court, said Jennifer Feyerherm, the group’s associate regional representative.

“We still think the nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions can be better reduced,” she said.

In Thursday’s ruling, the appellate court ordered the DNR reopen the permit and set tighter controls for visible emissions. That could mean more construction work at Weston 4, which went online in 2008.

However, WPS spokeswoman Lisa Prunty said, utility representatives have not yet reviewed the court order or determined what it could mean for construction at Weston 4.

“We wouldn’t want to speculate on what the effect might be until we’ve had sufficient time to review the decision,” she said.

David Bender, the Madison-based attorney representing the Sierra Club, said the group has 30 days to determine if it wants to push the case to the Supreme Court.

Feyerherm said she does not know if the Sierra Club will make that decision, but she said she believes emissions at the plant can be reduced.

“We need to know: What are the best available control technologies?” she said. “And we want to make sure the state’s requiring that those be in place.”

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