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In This Section
PDF November/December 2005
e-mail October 28, 2005
e-mail September 29, 2005


Hope Surfaces in Katrina's Wake
Snapshots from the Summit
Democracy Breaks Out
Rally for the Arctic
A Better Legacy
Thoroughbred Power Plant Blocked
John Swingle
Betsy Bennett
Larry Fahn
Is Your City a Cool City?
Endangered Species Act Endangered
Smithfield Shareholder Resolution
Owens Valley Victory
New Energy Bill Exploits Katrina
From the Editor: Wake of the Flood
Hot or Not?
Judgement Day at Hand for Arctic Refuge
Designing the 'Next Industrial Revolution'
Exxpose Exxon
What Would John Muir Drive?
Maybe This SUV?
Happy Birthday Alaska Wildlands
Big Box Boondoggle on the Ropes
Save the Great Bear Rainforest
Mark Johnston
Joni Bosh
Gordon Nipp
From the Editor: Paper to Pixels
PDF September/October 2005
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Back Issues

The Planet

Thoroughbred Power Plant Blocked

Victory in Kentucky

by Tom Valtin

Some said opposing Peabody Coal’s proposed Thoroughbred Power Plant near Central City, Kentucky, was “a David vs. Goliath challenge.” We’re talking about the world’s largest coal company, after all, which last year sold 17 million tons of coal from Appalachia alone.

Standing Up: Jim Nyberg and Jim Young of the Sierra Club's Eastern Missouri Group make their feelings knows at a Club rally outside Peabody's annual shareholder meeting in St. Louis in May.  

But the Sierra Club’s Cumberland Chapter, along with Valley Watch of Indiana and three citizens, successfully challenged a state air quality permit Peabody had received for Thoroughbred, saying it ignored the Clean Air Act requirement that “best available control technology” be used on new polluting facilities.

In August, hearing officer Janet Thompson of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet agreed with nearly all of the Sierra Club’s case and remanded the permit for the 1,500-megawatt Thoroughbred plant. Thompson found that Peabody and the state Division of Air Quality had acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in rejecting modern emission techniques.

The Louisville Courier-Journal called it “a rare rebuff to Peabody,” and predicted that the decision “will set the agenda for a whole new era in power generation in a region that has some of the nation’s worst air.”
“We’d been watching the progress of Peabody’s ‘next generation’ of power plants for some time,” says Chapter Vice Chair Lane Boldman. “We felt Thoroughbred would be a bellwether for many future power plants, in Kentucky and elsewhere.”

Club Midwest organizer Bruce Nilles, on hearing of the chapter’s victory, said, “Do not underestimate the significance of what you have done in Kentucky. This will have an effect on power plants throughout the Midwest.”
Throughout the permitting process, the chapter fought to have even simple requirements of the Clean Air Act implemented. The three-year battle culminated in a 74-day hearing involving 25 witnesses and more than 600 legal exhibits, the lion’s share organized and presented by chapter volunteers, who brought the issue before the public through a steady stream of media and public relations events.

Chapter leaders Hank Graddy and Betsy Bennett spearheaded the legal challenge, arguing that the state granted consent to the project without an environmental risk assessment—a decision that just so happened to coincide with a series of targeted political contributions. “Every time a government agency objected to some part of the permit, Peabody made a donation in high places and the objections were ‘resolved,’” Bennett says.

They pointed out as well that Mammoth Cave National Park—an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site—is 50 miles downwind of the proposed plant site. Air pollution at Mammoth Cave is the third worst in the national park system. Rainfall is ten times more acidic than natural conditions, and monitoring has found high levels of mercury in park waterways and in the hair of bats in the caves. Coal-burning power plants are the main source of mercury pollution.

“If the cabinet secretary upholds this decision, Peabody will have to go back and do it right,” says Graddy. “The hearing officer decided that our children’s health and safety needs come first.”

Sierra Club vs. Thoroughbred has already been cited as an influence on other projects in Kentucky. Boldman says managers of the proposed Cache Creek Power Plant have stated that they’ll use cleaner technology largely because of concerns with Peabody and environmental groups.

photo by Joan Lindop

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