Mercury pollution from proposed power plant in Wise County would be worse than other Dominion plants
As the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality prepares for a public hearing this Thursday in Wise County on Dominion’s controversial plans to build a coal-fired power plant there, opponents are debunking the company’s claims that the plant would be cutting edge and would meet or exceed the highest environmental standards. Their analysis of Dominion’s own data shows that the facility would emit far more mercury than other power plants built in the last two decades.
DEQ’s draft permit for the proposed plant would allow Dominion to emit 49 pounds of mercury a year. The last power plant that Dominion built, the 850-megawatt Clover Power Station in Halifax County, emits far less. Constructed in 1995-6, the Clover facility emits 17 pounds of mercury per year, according to data published by the company. In contrast, the 585-megawatt Wise County plant would emit more than four times that amount on a per-megawatt basis.
Dominion has argued that mercury emissions from its Wise County coal plant may be higher because it plans to burn a small percentage of waste coal or “gob.” (The majority of the fuel for the facility would be newly mined coal from Virginia.) But a coal-fired power plant in Seward, Pennsylvania, owned by Reliant Energy, burns only waste coal and emits just 2% of the mercury that the Wise County plant would produce.
“Dominion has claimed that it cannot do any better,” says Sarah Rispin, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But the larger Clover Power Station – which burns Virginia coal just as the proposed plant would – has less than one fourth the mercury emissions.”
“This plant fails to measure up to Dominion’s standards at its other coal plants,” says Cale Jaffe, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Dominion’s own numbers prove it isn’t ‘state-of-the-art’ even by the standards of fifteen years ago.”
In addition to requiring an air pollution permit for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants, DEQ is now requiring a permit specifically for mercury emissions and other hazardous pollutants due to a federal ruling in February that coal-fired power plants must cut these especially hazardous pollutants to the maximum extent possible in compliance with the Clean Air Act.
Mercury is a heavy metal emitted from the smokestacks of power plants as a byproduct of burning coal. Transformed in surface water into methylmercury, it accumulates in fish tissue, posing a tremendous risk to humans that eat contaminated fish. Fetuses, infants, and young children are at special risk for impaired neurological development, including problems with cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. The Virginia Department of Health has imposed mercury-related fish advisories on hundreds of miles of rivers within the Commonwealth that prohibit consumption of fish because of extreme levels of mercury contamination.
The DEQ is holding a public hearing on the draft mercury permit on Thursday, April 3, in St. Paul, Virginia. Local opponents, who feel the sign-in process at DEQ’s February public hearing on the plant was stacked against them, plan to boycott Thursday’s hearing. Instead, noting that Dominion’s permits are now in the hands of the State Air Pollution Control Board, opponents are strongly encouraging citizens to submit written comments before the April 18, deadline and to attend future air board meetings on the plant.
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SELC represents the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition whose mission is to stop Dominion Power’s proposed coal-fired power plant in Wise County and turn Virginia toward a cleaner, sustainable energy future. Coalition members include the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Southern Environmental Law Center.