deq

EPA Rejects Michigan Coal Plant

EPA Rejects Michigan Coal Plant

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a permit for a new coal plant at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

The ruling–issued after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality initially approved the permit–says that the plant has several air quality deficiencies, including problems how it limits sulfur dioxide emissions from its broiler. It further orders the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to start regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.

The permit was the first awarded to one of Michigan’s eight proposed coal plants. The plants have met strong citizen opposition. Governor Granholm has also stated that all energy companies seeking to build coal plants need to reconsider clean energy alternatives before moving forward with the permitting process.

Near Unanimous Opposition to Proposed Coal Burning Power Plant in Holland at DEQ Public Hearing

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Last night the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) opened a two-day public hearing on the proposed coal burning power plant for Holland, Michigan. The plant would cost an estimated $240 million without including the sequestering of carbon produced by the plant.

Before the public was invited to speak, a representative from the DEQ said that they are not interested in how many are for and against the proposed power plant, rather they want to make their decision based on whether or not the power plant would meet “air quality standards.”

Limited Support for the Plant

About 100 people attended the public hearing, but only thirty people offered public comments. Of those thirty, only three were in favor of the proposed power plant.

The Mayor of Holland expressed support and stated that the “coal that will be used for the Holland plant is from states out West,” since he wanted to avoid any association with the negative publicity around coal ash pollution generally associated with coal mining in eastern states. The only other supporters were a volunteer for the Holland Board of Public Works and a resident of Holland.

Extensive Opposition to the Plant: Concerns over Pollution Common

A steady stream of Holland residents stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to the proposed power plant. Many of them expressed concern over pollution, particularly air pollution that will contribute to increased asthma. One woman, who says she suffers from asthma, was convinced that her asthma is a direct result of the existing coal burning power plant based in Holland. A senior citizen who can see the smokestacks from the current power plant says that he and the other senior citizens “are at risk of contracting respiratory problems” because of their proximity to the coal burning plant. Other Holland residents said that renewable energy should be promoted and produced and that the City of Holland should advocate for a reduction of energy consumption by the residents and businesses of the community.

People from other areas of Ottawa County also expressed opposition to the proposed power plant, as well as people who came from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A woman with the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids was concerned about the carbon emissions and their contribution to global warming. She felt that “there needed to be a radical change to how we produce energy” and that the proposed plant will only contribute to the growing problem. Another woman expressed her opposition to the power plant, said she spoke “as a mother who has breast fed her children”, and believes that the toxins produced from such a power plant would be bad for all children and nursing mothers.

Environmental Groups Voice Opposition

Several speakers during the hearing were from environmental groups throughout the state. One woman from the Ecology Center addressed concerns about asthma and other air pollution concerns. She argued that data shows many people have died from air pollution, others suffer asthma problems, and thousands of work-days have been lost from people being sick due to air pollution generated from coal burning power plants.

Several members of a local chapter of the Earth Institute and the Sierra Club also spoke against the proposed power plant. The State Director of the Sierra Club said that CO2 regulation is the main issue, even though the DEQ does not include CO2 emissions when making determinations about air quality. She said that Governor Granholm has spoken out for reduction of CO2, but that the Climate Action Council, which is making recommendations on this issue, is made up of “too many special interest groups, not scientists.”

Jan O’Connell with the Sierra Club said that the claim from the Holland Board of Public Works that the existing power plant meets current air quality standards isn’t true. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated both Ottawa and Kent Counties as non-attainment sites meaning there are unacceptable levels of air pollution and particulates for those two counties. O’Connell said that the permit should be denied based on the EPA finding.

Indigenous Community Lends Powerful Voice Against the Plant

Possibly the most compelling speakers during the public hearing were from the Native American community. Each of the Native speakers addressed the issue of mercury contamination that comes with coal burning and said that it disproportionately impacts Native people since they eat more local fish–much of which have high levels of mercury in Michigan. Another Native speaker criticized the DEQ for not conducting “an environmental justice assessment” and said that they felt like this was another example of how the government “does care about the well being of native people.” One Native speaker read from a copy of the permit request and read some of the “allowable” chemicals that the proposed coal burning plant would produce. He said that there are four pages consisting solely of chemicals that the proposed power plant would produce and asked, “How can any of these chemicals be good for our children and future generations?”

Opportunity for Further Public Comment

The public can submit comments to the Michigan DEQ up until January 30 on the proposed power plant for Holland.

You can submit comments through the DEQ or through Clean Energy Now.

Michigan DEQ Holds Informational Meeting on Proposed Holland Power Plant

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On Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) held a public informational meeting in Holland as part of their process in determining whether or not to grant the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) permission to build a new coal fueled powered plant.

The meeting was not to provide an opportunity for people to take a public position on the issue, rather it was designed to provide information based on the MDEQ research and provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions. There will be public hearings on the proposed Holland plant on January 12 & 13.

The evening began with several MDEQ staff presenting information based upon research they conducted after receiving the permit request from the HBPW. Some of the information they presented detailed the permit process and conditions, in addition to a health and environmental safety summary. One of the issues that were addressed were the estimated mercury and lead levels that the proposed power plant would emit. The MDEQ concluded, “these levels would not significantly affect children’s health in this community.” Much of the information that was shared by the MDEQ staff was technical and can be found online, but even that information is difficult to follow unless you have some prior knowledge of the issue.

Roughly 50 people attended the meeting and asked nearly 70 questions. People could address the DEQ directly at a microphone or write down questions that would be submitted to the staff. The MDEQ did go over the allotted four hours in order to respond to every question that was submitted.

Many of the questions that were asked dealt with health and environmental issues, such as mercury levels and CO2 emissions. Those addressing these issues were concerned about the impact on the health of children and senior citizens as well as what impact the CO2 emissions would have on climate change. In response, the MDEQ staff quite often said that they did not know for sure what the risks would be or that, in the case of CO2 emissions, wasn’t relevant to their decision to grant the permit since their was no current state regulation on CO2 emissions.

At one point the Mayor of Holland showed up and asked, “What is the track record of the HBPW with the MDEQ field office in Grand Rapids as it relates to compliance?” The MDEQ said that there was “continually compliance.” The Holland Mayor promptly left after asking this question. One questioner asked if a lawsuit filed the day before by the Sierra Club would have any bearing on the DEQ decision. The MDEQ responded by saying the lawsuit is independent of their decision making process.

Other questions addressed whether or not the MDEQ was considering the cumulative affect of the pollution that would be generated if all the proposed coal fueled power plants in Michigan were built. The MDEQ responded that they are not required to consider the cumulative affect of all the proposed power plants and would not speculate since none of them have yet to be built.

Another person asked if the ” power plant has to demonstrate a need for the expansion?” The MDEQ said that it was immaterial to their decision, they only make decisions about compliance and that “the amount or size of the power plant is up to the company to decide.”

A Holland resident asked if environmental justice issues were being considered in the permit process. “Not at this time, but the Governor’s office is putting together a group to deal with this issue,” said a MDEQ spokesperson. This question was similar to one asked about the relationship between the Native American tribes in Michigan and the MDEQ. The MDEQ stated that the Environmental Protection Agency already has a relationship with Native tribes living in Michigan and has offered to host informational meetings with them. Another questioner asked if the MDEQ considers the environmental and health impact of the coal that is mined and transported to Michigan for the proposed coal fueled power plants. Like most of the answers given by the MDEQ at this meeting, they responded that this was not part of state policy for assessing whether or not a company should be granted a permit.

In speaking to a Sierra Club volunteer after the meeting, they stated that there are huge holes in the MDEQ process for granting permits on such a critical issue. “Until CO2 emissions and other environmental and health issues are included their process will be extremely inadequate.”

A staff person with the Sierra Club also pointed out that a representative from Consumers Power was in the room to monitor process and gather information in preparation for their coal fueled power plant request. MediaMouse.org asked the Consumers Energy person if that is why they attended and they declined to respond.

In addition to the January public hearings in Holland, the public can submit comments to the MDEQ online before January 30th.

The Clean Energy Now effort also has an online letter writing campaign to send a clear message to the MDEQ that “stopping the coal fueled power plants that are being proposed is critical to protecting our lakes, reducing global warming emissions, lowering mercury levels in fish, improving our air quality, and protecting our health.”

Judge Rules in Favor of Kennecott Mine Air Quality Permit

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An Ingham County Circuit Judge has ruled that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) ruled appropriately when it <a href="http://www.mlive.com/newsflash/michigan/index.ssf?/base/business-18/122667624126360.xml&storylist=newsmichigan&quot;.gave Kennecott Eagle Minerals an air quality permit for a proposed sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The lawsuit was filed by the Huron Mountain Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Additional hurdles remain before the mine can begin operating, including an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water discharge permit and the results of a hearing over whether or not the DEQ ruled appropriately when it gave a permit to Kennecott to operate the mine and discharge water.

Opponents of the mine–who have been organized for over two years in the UP–argue that the mine will produce acidic run-off that threatens the watershed.

Forum on Global Warming Short on Solutions

A forum on global warming hosted by the City of Grand Rapids was held at Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Grand Rapids campus last night. Mayor George Heartwell and the Director of the Michigan Department of the Environmental Quality (DEQ) Steven Chester, both provided opening comments before presentations by three panelists. Mayor Heartwell boasted that Grand Rapids has made a larger reduction of carbon per capita than any other city in the country between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study by the Brookings Institute.

DEQ Director Steven Chester stated that Michigan has taken some “aggressive steps towards confronting its role in the creation of Greenhouse gases.” The evidence for these aggressive steps were that Governor Granholm signed the Greenhouse gas accord with other Midwest governors and that the state now has a Climate Action Council which was created in November of 2007. It is worth noting that while some environmental organizations are represented on this action council, most of the members are from universities, government, businesses, and business associations. However, he also stated that Michigan is the ninth largest emitter of CO2 in the country.

The first panelist was Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer from the University of Michigan. He presented some background information on what he called “undisputable evidence that humans are causing Global Warming.” Dr. Dadelhoffer has traveled to both of the poles and says that the changes have been dramatic. Biomass is decomposing near the Arctic and releasing large amounts of CO2, Arctic ice is melting, and the amounts of snow and ice at the poles has been steadily decreasing over the past 30 years. He said the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on earth and has increased by 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. The most dramatic example the speaker provided was the disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf near the Antarctic Circle. All of this information, according Dr. Nadelhoffer, was based on his own research and that of the conservative estimates that are from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

Karel Rogers, a retired GVSU professor and current board President of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, followed Dr. Nadelhoffer. Dr. Rogers emphasized the negative impact on climate change that population growth has had over the past 100 years. This population growth has meant huge increases in population, mining, oil production, electricity consumption and the use of motorized vehicles, according to Dr. Rogers. She concluded her comments by offering what she referred to as policy recommendations. First, she said Michigan needs to integrate water use with energy planning, since 40% of fresh was use is for energy production. Second, she said that there needs to be serious energy conservation, which the professor said could be done with the construction of more LEED certified buildings. Lastly, she said that we cannot create new carbon sources, and that the world needs to be 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. Dr. Rogers specifically identified the effort to build new coal plants in Michigan and said these needed to be stopped.

The last speaker was David Ullrich, Executive Director of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. He briefly discussed issues that cities are faced with that are related to global warming-sewage systems, water run off, snow removal, intense rains and drought. He also said that energy reduction was necessary but offered up no real solutions on how to achieve those reductions. The lack of concrete solutions was the case throughout the night as was a real absence of what sectors of society are the main culprits in causing global warming. The only corporation that was mentioned with any criticism was Exxon-Mobil and that comment was limited to their profits during the recent gas price increases. There was no mention of Exxon-Mobil’s funding of groups that dismiss the seriousness of global warming. In fact, several of the panelists stated that we need less regulation of industry and only needed to have a “real free market” that would allow the business community to figure out ways to make sustainability profitable.

After two hours of commentary from the panelists, the audience was finally allowed to ask questions. The question process was done through written statements that were handed to two volunteers from the Sierra Club who then sifted through questions they decided were relevant to give to the moderator. None of the questions that reached the moderator focused on solutions, but one did confront the DEQ director about his department’s role in granting new coal plant permits. Steven Chester stated that the way that the DEQ operates, they have no power to regulate the energy industry and that they are obligated by law to give the grants to these companies who request them. The only leverage they have, according to Dr. Chester, is to make a recommendation on the status of energy consumption and carbon emission in the state.

Another question that was addressed to the panel had to do with how the issue of global warming is relevant to marginal communities. The response was, “poor people are spending too much money on energy and have less for food. What poor people need to do was to retrofit their homes so that they will be more energy efficient.” The response didn’t take into consideration that many people don’t own their own homes nor does it address the fact that marginal communities are the most negatively impacted by global warming internationally, even though these communities are not responsible for the policy decisions made on this issue.

The only question to address policy had to do with what the panel thought about the Lieberman/Warner bill. Dr. Rogers said it was woefully inadequate and that the Union of Concerned Scientists provided a good analysis of this proposed legislation. David Ullrich said he would be in favor of the legislation since it took a step in the right direction.

Like many other forums that have been held on this topic in the past year, attendees left with little new information or concrete ways that they could be part of any efforts to seriously make a change on the issue of global warming.

DEQ Approves Permits for Kennecott’s Sulfide Mine

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced today that it has approved a series of permits requested by Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company for a proposed sulfide mine near Marquette, Michigan. The permits had been opposed by citizens and environmental groups at public hearings and via written public comments. In response to the decision, Save the Wild UP issued a joint press release with the National Wildlife Federation, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Michigan Environmental Council, and the Huron Mountain Club expressing continued opposition to the DEQ’s decision.

In the strongly worded press release, the groups assert that the permit does not meet the intent or conditions in Michigan’s sulfide mining law and question whether the DEQ took seriously the technical comments submitted by mine experts, including 700 pages of analysis and predictions of environmental devastation. The groups are planning to continue challenging the permits via administrative and legal action. The mine must still get at least one permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and must receive permission from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to use 120 acres of state land via a 40-year lease.

Save the Wild UP has planned a rally on Monday in Marquette and has issued the following call for people living outside Marquette:

“If you do not live in the Marquette area, consider showing your opposition to the proposed Kennecott project in your neighborhood. Put a sign in your yard, get a group of people together in your city center, or write a letter to the editor!”

Michigan DEQ Cleanup Programs Face Funding Shortage

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Tuesday at the Women’s City Club in downtown Grand Rapids, local environmental and progressive groups–Clean Water Action, the Dwight Lydell Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, the West Michigan Sierra Club, Republicans for Environmental Protection, and Progressive and Friends of North Kent County–sponsored a presentation by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The DEQ’s presentation was titled “Outta Sight!–Outta Mind!–Outta Money! Trouble Brewing Underground as Funding Levels Dwindle for Michigan’s Cleanup Program” and addressed the lack of funding for the DEQ’s cleanup programs.

The presentation consisted primarily of a PowerPoint presentation by Sharon Goble, who is a Part 213 Program Specialist in the Remediation and Redevelopment Division. Goble began by telling the audience that Michigan is second to the bottom for conservation spending per capita in the United States at $25. Not surprisingly, the DEQ will soon be out of money for cleanup projects and “Brownfield” development (previously developed sites that appear contaminated), despite the fact that nearly half of Michigan’s population lives within half a mile of a contaminated site. Much of this contamination is due to Michigan’s industrial legacy–a legacy that has left tens of thousands of contaminated sites with hundreds discovered each year.

According to Goble, her division of the DEQ is a “safety net” for contamination not covered elsewhere. Her division’s work is split into two areas–”remediation” and “redevelopment.” Remediation includes drum removals, tank removals, abating imminent fire/vapor/explosion hazards, emergency spill response, demolition, and alternate water provisions. The redevelopment portion of her work includes facilitating redevelopment of Brownfield sites in order to build a stronger economy. This work is spread across five program areas–the Michigan Contaminated Site Cleanup Program, the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Program, the Federal Superfund Program, a Brownfield redevelopment program, and the State Owned Sites Cleanup program. Through her division’s work, there have been 12,000 leaking tanks closed, $32 million spent from state funds used to conduct cleanup operations at 59 Superfund sites, and $95 awarded to 228 Brownfield redevelopment projects.

Despite what she termed the “successes” of the DEQ’s work, her division might lose the majority of its funding. To maintain the current level of work $95 million is needed annually (excluding the tank program, which needs an additional $177 million). With current funding levels and sources, by the beginning of the 2008 Fiscal Year (September 2008), her division will have a substantial shortfall. One-time funding and grants for her division have been depleted and other sources–including the 7/8ths of a cent Refined Petroleum Fund Fee on gasoline purchases–will only account for $14 million in continued funding. If the money is not somehow appropriated, the immediate consequences will be that no new projects will be undertaken, they will be unable to address emergency needs, and existing projects will be scaled back.

The $95 million cited by Goble includes $60 million for projects focused on sites that are critical threats to public health or natural resources, $25 million for staffing, and $10 million for Brownfield grants and loans. Her division’s tank program will required an additional $177 million per year with $140 million going towards newly reported releases, $25 million towards cleaning up orphaned sites where there is no liable party (ex: an abandoned gas station), and $12 million for program administration. Goble argued that this $177 million is urgently needed as Michigan has 21,000 confirmed releases (leaks) with 9,000 that have gone unaddressed. Because of its history with the auto industry, Michigan is third in the nation for the number of unaddressed releases. The top three states–Michigan, Florida, and California account for one third of all unaddressed sites in the United States. This includes 835 in the nine county that constitutes the DEQ’s Grand Rapids District.

Susan Erickson of the DEQ’s Environmental Stewardship Grants and Loans Unit argued that her area–slated to receive $10 million under the amount proposed by Goble–will otherwise run out of grant funding within a year and loan funding within two years. Her program offers low-interest grants and loans for the development of Brownfield sites with grants up to $1 million and loans up to $1 million (with no payment or interest for the first five years, and two percent each year after on the 15 year loan). Erickson said that the program discourages sprawl by encouraging development at sites already connected to the transportation and utility infrastructure, spurs private investment, and has created 12,000 permanent jobs.

Sulfide Mine Permit Decision Delayed

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Save the Wild Up has announced that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has asked for a 30-day extension before making a decision on permits for Kennecott’s proposed sulfide mine in the Upper Peninsula. A decision on the permits–which have been strongly opposed by environmental and citizens groups in the Upper Peninsula due to environmental concerns–was originally expected to be made by today. However, according to an article in The Mining Journal, the DEQ and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are still working to coordinate information. In addition, the DNR has apparently received “new information” regarding one of the five permits under consideration.

Kennecott filed its 8,000-page permit application in February of 2006, but decisions have been delayed due to problems with Kennecott’s permit, the withholding of information at the DEQ, and legal action. Despite these issues, preliminary approval was granted to Kennecott back in August pending public comment. During the public comment period, there was significant opposition to the mine and several groups submitted highly detailed technical objections to the permit.

Save the Wild UP is calling for letters opposing the mine to be sent to the state government during the review period.

Michigan DEQ Grants Preliminary Approval to Flawed Sulfide Application

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On Monday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that it has approved a permit for a sulfide mine near Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The so-called “Eagle Project,” which would be operated by Kennecott Minerals, has drawn considerable public opposition over the past year and a half. Opponents of the mine have highlighted the environmental destructiveness of sulfide mining and warned that the mine threatens the unique ecosystem of the Yellow Dog Plains.

Earlier this year, the approval process for the mine was temporarily suspended after the DEQ realized that documents critical of the proposed mine had been withheld from the publicly released permit application. However, following an internal investigation that was widely criticized by opponents of the mine, the DEQ ruled the documents were only unintentionally withheld from the public. Despite calls for the removal of Michigan’s chief mining regulator by opposition groups, no officials were removed or strongly sanctioned as a result of the controversy. Instead, in a three-page document the DEQ explains that the mine will “not pollute, impair, or destroy the air, water, or other natural resources or the public trust in those resources” and must therefore be given approval pending public comment.

Save the Wild UP, one of the major organizations opposing the mine, criticized the decision on Monday, as did representatives of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and the National Wildlife Federation. Opponents charge that there are still many deficiencies in the application and that the DEQ’s previous failures make it impossible to trust the agency. Dick Huey, co-founder of Save the Wild UP, stated:

Our Governor apparently buys a loose promise of short-term cash and turns a blind eye to the long-term environmental damage of every sulfide mine that has ever been. DEQ follows the political wind, with an eye on our Governor. Michigan citizens and anyone drinking Great Lakes water should fear long term elevated incidence of Alzheimer’s, birth defects and cancer if permitting this mine opens the door to a new sulfide mining district.

There was also criticism of the DEQ’s role in facilitating rather than regulating mining, with UP resident Philip Power stating:

At the start of all this, some of us actually believed the DEQ could handle review of Kennecott’s permit applications with integrity and impartiality. The agency’s record since then belies these hopes. The internal culture of the Office of Geological Survey is to facilitate mining, not regulate it. Documents have been suppressed, Freedom of Information requests ignored, and the commitments made by the agency to prevent pollution have been overthrown. Now the DEQ proposes to grant to Kennecott an air permit that allows the company to spew toxic copper and nickel dust all over the central UP. It’s increasingly clear the DEQ has neither the expertise nor the guts properly to review this project.

Additionally, the Michigan DEQ has resumed the public comment period and has scheduled upcoming public hearings on the mine application. Hearings will now take place in the Upper Peninsula near Marquette in Forsyth Township at the West Branch Community Center from September 11-13, and in the Lower Peninsula in Lansing at the Lansing Center on September 19. Written comments can be submitted via email to DEQ-Kennecott-comments@michigan.gov or via postal mail to:

DEQ/DNR Kennecott Comments

Office of Geological Survey

P.O. Box 30256

Lansing, Michigan 48909-7756

A final decision is expected on or before November 14, 2007.

Activists Respond to Investigation of Michigan DEQ in Sulfide Mining Controversy

Save the Wild UP, a Marquette, Michigan-based organization that has taken a central role in the fight against sulfide mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has responded to a recent repor declaring that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not intentionally withhold documents from the public. A press release issued by Save the Wild UP titled “MDEQ Bungles Investigation,” made harsh criticisms of an investigation that failed to interview people outside the DEQ and reached contradictory conclusions when it called for the reinstatement of a DEQ official at the center of the probe:

“This report showcases MDEQ’s frightening inability to administer a technically complicated application for a risky mine. The author paints a picture of a lower level staff person with inadequate training and time, who steps in to ‘take on’ responsibilities without the authorization or active supervision of his superiors. In summary, DEQ’s investigator, having noted this employee’s questionable judgment, suggests he be reinstated as head of the Mining Review Team. As the first sulfide mining application under new laws, this precedent setting application is just too important to be bungled by the MDEQ.”

Dick Huey, a spokesperson for Save the Wild UP, called for the DEQ to keep John Maki from being returned to his job overseeing the mine permit. Michelle Halley, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, pointed out that Maki once described the mine as “his baby,” raising serious questions about his ability to be an impartial official responsible for overseeing the permit application.