Stop the Proposed Avenal Energy Fossil Fuel Power Plant

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Protect Community Health, Environment and Everyone’s Climate

Greenaction is working with Avenal and Kettleman City residents and leading the fight to stop the proposed Avenal Energy fossil fuel power plan in Avenal, California. The proposed 600 megawatt plant would use natural gas and would emit a wide range of criteria, toxic and climate change pollutants into the already heavily polluted air of Kings County and the San Joaquin Valley.

Greenaction is fighting this project through community organizing and education, the filing of administrative civil rights complaints against several government agencies and legal action against the US EPA.  The Title VI Civil Rights Act complaint against the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District alleges that the agency’s failure to hold a public hearing on the proposed permit, along with attempts at retaliation, had a discriminatory impact on the Latino, Spanish-speaking residents. The USEPA’s Office of Civil Rights is now actively investigating our complaint against the Air District.

In November 2011, Greenaction joined with Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a lawsuit challenging the federal air pollution permit for the Avenal Power Plant. In a controversial decision, EPA exempted the project from several key air pollution standards.  The facility, proposed to be built by Texas-based Macquarie Energy, is targeted near the rural communities of Avenal and Kettleman City in California’s San Joaquin Valley, which already has some of the most polluted air in the country.  The coalition filed legal papers with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On May 27th, EPA announced that it would not require the project to comply with current pollution control requirements because, according to agency officials, EPA took too long to process the permit application.  Instead, the agency “grandfathered” the project from requirements to show that it would not cause unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollution, and to install the best available controls for greenhouse gases.

Greenaction and allies first challenged the permit at the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in June of 2011.  On August 18, 2011, a panel of administrative law judges at the Board said they did not have time to fully consider the grandfathering issue and allowed the weaker permit to remain.

The EPA regional office in San Francisco, which is responsible for reviewing and issuing permits for projects in California, received an application for the plant in March 2008 but waited for required information from other agencies before holding public hearings on the proposal in October 2009.  In 2010, EPA adopted new national standards in order to protect public health against harmful nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollution.  It also adopted new rules regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  Because the construction plans for the Avenal plant did not meet these new pollution regulations, the EPA regional office requested that the facility curb its pollution in order to receive the final permit.

Then, in an unprecedented action, Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation in Washington, D.C., reversed previous agency policy and announced that the plant would receive a permit even though it will pollute far more than current law allows.  EPA Headquarters then revoked the permitting responsibility for the Avenal plant from EPA’s regional office, which normally has jurisdiction over facilities in California.

“Low-income and people of color living near the Avenal site are already burdened by a major birth defect and infant mortality cluster, high levels of diesel traffic fumes, toxic pesticide spraying, and living next to the largest toxic waste dump in the western U.S.,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction.  “The EPA should not permit a new polluting power plant, especially as the law is clear that new power plants must achieve air pollution control requirements that exist today, not those from the past that EPA has already found to be insufficient to protect public health.”

Greenaction is alarmed that EPA is considering extending the “grandfather” policy to other polluting industries across the country.  The agency estimates that 10 to 20 other proposed major industrial projects with current applications before the agency could be “grandfathered” in under this new approach.