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Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a big blow to the proposed Big Stone II plant and a huge victory for our climate and environment.

Just as a little backgrounder, Big Stone II is a proposed coal plant in South Dakota that would provide power to Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. All these states have huge wind power potential but Big Stone II would commit us to dirty energy for generations. Here's a longer factsheet. It's a terrible idea but seemed to be heading towards approval, until today.

You can read for yourself the EPA ruling (PDFs: Part 1, Part 2). Environmental groups Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club are exited about a big victory. This does not end the fight but it is a significant blow to Big Stone II.

-In November the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment issued Big Stone II an air quality permit, then it sent that to the EPA for review.

-The EPA found 3 areas of the permit that were not consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

-South Dakota now gets 90 days to change the permit and then the EPA has 45 days after that to review the permit again.

- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved transition lines for Big Stone II last week.

-Minnesota law requires that new power lines for a coal plant can only be approved when the applicant (usually a utility) proves that that costs less than using renewable energy or energy efficiency or some combination of the two.

-If the permit is changed and accepted by the EPA it would likely raise the cost of the project. It would almost certainly change the cost.  So according to MPR awesome local green group Fresh Energy plans to ask the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reconsider last weeks decision.

Her group will ask the PUC to reconsider its power line permit for Big Stone II. Taylor says the increased costs of the plant because of the air permit issue will be one of the issues the group raises. It's possible the plant's energy will cost more than renewables like wind power, she says.

In short, this is a big set back for Big Stone II and a big victory for environmental advocates but the fight is far from over. It does signal however that the EPA under President Obama (still feels amazing writing that) will be taking a much harder look at proposed coal plants then they did during the Bush era. That coupled with Obama's "green dream team" and recent stimulus developments are very good for anyone who cares about the future of our planet.

Cross posted from the Minnesota Progressive Project

Originally posted to Populista on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:30 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We need to find more responsible ways to heat (9+ / 0-)

    our homes and power our cars.  Coal needs to be a last resort not a first option considered.  Good for Team Obama.

  •  We cannot kill coal... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phil S 33, TheUnknown285, dgil

    Before we have the alternatives in place...smart change please...

    Obama/Biden'08 Delivering Change he Promised

    by dvogel001 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:40:23 AM PST

    •  Is this killing coal? (4+ / 0-)

      There is a new coal mine being permitted right now near GJ, CO and three large mines right up the road from me hauling at least 5 mile-long trains out every day, seven days a week...

    •  But it's vital that we halt or drastically reduce (9+ / 0-)

      the number of new coal plants that are built.  Once a new coal plant goes live, it's there to stay for decades, which means it's going to be sending greenhouse gases into the air for decades.  And we can't afford that right now.

      No day but today--Obama '08

      by someotherguy86 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:49:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We can't kill the planet... (11+ / 0-)

      Before we have an alternative planet to move to.

      The fact is, as I posted below, that electrical energy demands are dropping in the U.S. at this time, and the drops are apparently not all due to the financial downturn.

      Possibly, conservation measures are finally catching on.  Coal power is by far the most overall damaging large-scale way of producing electricity.  It should then be the last resort.  We can't yet eliminate all of the plants that we have, but we have plenty of options for new sources of electricity without coal during a dime of decreasing demand.  In fact we could start eliminating the least efficient of the coal power plants, as they've already been doing in China.

      If Obama gets the new building and renovation ideas into the stimulus package, demand for electricity will continue to drop.  Then we'd look very foolish if we had a bunch of extra coal power plants on our hands.

      "Trust only those who doubt" Lu Xun

      by LookingUp on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:51:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The alternatives are ready NOW. Instead of... (8+ / 0-)

      funding crap like coal, we need to INSIST that all new power be green.  That is the ONLY way we will get clean electricity. I wish we could have a flat-out permanent moratorium on new coal or oil electric-generating power plants.  The damage they will do in the next several decades seriously undermines our moving forward with wind, solar and geothermal energy generation.

      And don't forget, like any new energy alternatives, the more in demand they are, the less expensive and more efficient they will become.  This is true of the "green three" [wind, solar, geothermal], too.  Every day seems to bring in another refinement, another efficiency, another improvement to make that which is already green, even better.  

      We need REAL CHANGE in power generation.  As long as we deem coal acceptable, we will never make the critical decision to go green.

      "Make it so." - Jean Luc Picard, USS Enterprise

      by chrispadem on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:53:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We need to assess the overall energy needs... (0+ / 0-)

        first...we still import 30% of our energy...so as soon as we get to 100% domestic energy production...then we can start eliminating domestic energy sources...

        Obama/Biden'08 Delivering Change he Promised

        by dvogel001 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:58:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Populista

      I applaud this ruling, but I hope the Obama Administration leads us more toward new energy sources and not solely toward a "No, you can't use that." policy.

    •  We shouldn't be permitting more coal plants (4+ / 0-)

      however that will pollute for fifty years. Wind energy is cost effective with coal, solar is coming down rapidly AND we haven't done squat with efficiency/conservation.

      Those are REAL alternatives now. "Clean coal" is not only an oxymoron, it isn't even technological feasible yet. Economically it is out of range.

    •  Wind power is viable in the Dakotas (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pgm 01, LookingUp

      and nuclear energy is Chicago's primary source of power.

      We have viable options to coal in the midwest and plains states.

      "It's the planet, stupid."

      by FishOutofWater on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 11:39:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  yes we can (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Populista, LookingUp

      Sorry, couldn't resist.  

      The use of can't or cannot are non-starters.

      Our intellectual capital will have to be funded and supported to move from filthy power generation to clean technologies.  As long as we feed the beast, it is sucking up critical resources.

      Building new coal plants is a waste of our resources, which are no longer abundant.  We cannot afford to make poor decisions based on some notion of expediency.

      Those expediency arguments come from narratives generated by special interests and on most days, unconvincing.

      It is not as if the opposition against coal pollution was born the day President Obama took office.  The coal industry has had opposition for a long time now.  

      They chose to focus on spending money to preserve status quo with lobbyists rather than on research and development to make their processes cleaner.

      They should go the way of the dinosaurs -- as in, yesterday.

      It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. Alfred Adler

      by Quicksilver2723 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:36:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am not saying that we cannot forever.. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Quicksilver2723

        it should just be part of an overall energy independence 10 year plan rather than just doing one-off strategy...

        Obama/Biden'08 Delivering Change he Promised

        by dvogel001 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 01:00:12 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  the problem with that approach... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Populista, UtopianPablo

          ..is that it continues to feed the very beast that competes for resources, both financial and human capital, required for the swift development of alternatives.

          I don't believe it's a lack of technological knowledge preventing change but a lack of will on the part of powerbrokers.  As long as politicians can be bought out with money-laundered tax dollars, nothing changes.

          It's time to cease subsidizing these losers and move to more fertile fields.  

          Ten years is a generous window of time for the transition to clean power generation, but it's an artificial designation.  Events will force our hand long before the end of this administration.  

          Also, when the commercial sector adopts new directions, they're very efficient machines for change themselves -- probably the best in the world.

          It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. Alfred Adler

          by Quicksilver2723 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 01:32:42 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am not a fan of... (0+ / 0-)

            starve the beast...energy policy...we can do it with incentives and policies without crippling our faltering economy by handcuffing our industry and tieing our economy to foreign oil....lets do an "Opollo Project" on energy independence instead of bankrupting our country by outlawing ooal right now...

            Obama/Biden'08 Delivering Change he Promised

            by dvogel001 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 09:11:12 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I wouldn't be a fan either... (0+ / 0-)

              ...if I didn't understand that this beast keeps gold-plated lobbyists installed at all levels of our government to block its competitors, often enabled by tax-financed subsidies.  This is not free and open markets at work.  It's taxpayer subsidized highway robbery.

              They've had their day in the sun.  As I said before, this industry has had ample time to clean up its act and spent resources instead on blocking progress.  Their defense is always the same:  If we go down, you go with us.

              Time to call their bluff and be done with 'em.

              It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. Alfred Adler

              by Quicksilver2723 on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 01:48:09 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Very happy for this, but are we premature to (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Drew J Jones, pgm 01, dgil, ArtSchmart

    credit Obama for this ruling?  Most of the work was likely done before he took the oath.

  •  Let's hope this becomes a pattern. Welcome (9+ / 0-)

    back, EPA!

    •  Seems That It May Be the New Way (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Populista, phrogge prince, LookingUp

      I am very encouraged.

      But there's a lot of harm that was done, and a lot of inaction that led to people being put in harm's way.

      Take the EPA's last eight years of inaction on assessing toxic chemicals-

      The Government Accountability Office has released a report saying the EPA lacks even basic information to say whether chemicals pose substantial health risks to the public. It says actions are needed to streamline and increase the transparency of the EPA's registry of chemicals. And it calls for measures to enhance the agency's ability to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry.

      Lisa Jackson, the EPA's new administrator, promised to take the report under consideration.

      "It is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of assessing and managing the risks of chemicals in consumer products, the workplace and the environment," Jackson said in a prepared statement Friday. "It is now time to revise and strengthen EPA's chemicals management and risk assessment programs."

  •  I love the smell of good news in the morning! (3+ / 0-)

    We don't cook our meals in this country over open flames.

    We don't use open sewers in this country to dispose of our effluent.

    We should not be getting electricity from coal.

    The best way to save the planet is to keep laughing.

    by LaughingPlanet on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:41:54 AM PST

  •  Electrical energy use is dropping anyway. (7+ / 0-)

    For many reasons this is no time to add more coal power plants.  When electricity use is decreasing: Surprise Drop in Power Use, we have the luxury of adding wind power plants to make up for regional increases in demand while developing better alternative sources.

    This is just the right time to push for the end of any new coal power plant construction.  It's too expensive in many ways.

    "Trust only those who doubt" Lu Xun

    by LookingUp on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:43:01 AM PST

    •  I agree with ending new coal, but... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Phoenix Woman, itzik shpitzik

      demand is dropping now due to economic crisis. When/if the economy recovers it will surge back up. We also need efficiency/conservation on a massive scale which is coming with the stimulus (weatherization, green building/remodeling).

    •  Electric use will increase big time... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Phoenix Woman

      ...once everyone starts driving those clean green electric cars and plug in hybrids. Unfortunately, coal is baseload and wind is not, and the solution to the intermittency of most renewable sources is still quite a ways away.

      I don't like that but it's true. We could have been much further along, but we lost a lot of time, and not just the past 8 years but for a generation before that.

      This is not what I thought I'd be when I grew up.

      by itzik shpitzik on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:38:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Coal is not an option (0+ / 0-)

        nuclear is a better option than coal, but neither is a very good long term strategy for powering the nation.  Wind, solar, small scale hydroelectric, and even wave energy can all be part of the mix.  Here in CT, towns and cities are looking into using hydroelectric power.  We have many old mills, long since empty and dams whose mills were destroyed decades ago.  While they won't be of the scale of Hoover Dam, each bit helps.

        The best option for clean base load plants are hydroelectric, geothermal and OTEC.  We have environments in this nation that are well suited to all of these types of energy generation.  In the worst case scenario, we will need to build a few new nuclear plants, hopefully using Pebble Bed Reactors but only as a short term stop gap.  We cannot use coal, it is simply too costly to the environment when we have so many better options.

        •  Nuclear is not a better option. (0+ / 0-)

          That's a true devils bargain.

          It would be better (sorry, less bad) for the phaseout of coal to take a few years longer than to add another generation of nukes and add to that long term "blessing" for future generations

          Those hydros in CT should be put on line but they will not add up to much. That's the problem.

          All of the technologies you mention are either very small scale or at this point unproven. That's the dilemma. We shoul have been years ahead of where we are now.

          This is not what I thought I'd be when I grew up.

          by itzik shpitzik on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 01:37:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Retrofitting Old Plants, Building New Ones... (4+ / 0-)

    ...represent money spent creating American jobs.

    Yes We DID!!!!!!! Now back to work!

    by InquisitiveRaven on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 10:48:28 AM PST

  •  Welcome news !! thank you for bringing glad (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Populista, LaughingPlanet

    tidings !!

  •  Great news (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Populista, LaughingPlanet

    and welcome back Populista, I've missed your diaries.

  •  Dead dinosaurs need to stay in the ground (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pgm 01, Populista

    I want to see the end of fossil fuels in my lifetime.

  •  Great news (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AtlantaJan, pgm 01, Populista

    Perhaps ending mountaintop removal "mining" is next.

    Only visited once but thought the Appalachians were fine just as they were.

    Mongo only pawn in Game of Life.

    by SecondComing on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:08:37 PM PST

  •  Bravo! Coal's great, if we don't burn the stuff.. (0+ / 0-)

    Find some other use for it, if we must. Maybe man-made diamonds. But, let's stop burning this stuff, while there's still time to save the planet. That would also save us from creating more of the coal-ash ponds that are causing all this trouble lately.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

    by FischFry on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:38:03 PM PST

  •  I live in Minnesota and the EPA (0+ / 0-)

    did a horrible horrible thing by shutting down the Big stone project.  By shutting down the Big stone project every small community, like ours, now has to pay much more for our home energy bills.

    The majority of citizens in all 3 states have already told the EPA we wanted Big Stone and we don't want sky high energy bills.  Our government failed to listen to the demands of the majority.  Initially we were ok with the decision because we believed that the government through the EPA or some other agency would be providing direct cash payments to every single family in every single community effected to offset the new major burden they put on us.

    Now we find out that they have no intention of providing us with the cash needed to offset the new high price on energy for our local communities.

    I am all for alternative energy but it needs to make sense.  Currently we have no alternative that would provide us with energy that wouldn't increase our energy bills.  This decision was wrong because we have no other economically viable alternative.  ALl other options will cost us more money.

    It is time for OUR government to listen and do what the people of America demand of them as they are supposed to be working for us.  The majority of Americans have no interest in paying more for heating/cooling their home so the government should focus intensely on doing nothing that would increase these prices.  It is especially cruel during a recession.

    Our government should furthermore invest in research of alternatives heavily.  They need to work hard to find new alternatives that are cheaper and create the ones we already know about economically viable.

    All we ever asked for was that any decision by the EPA focus first on not increasing our energy bills.  They failed us first by blocking the needed energy.  They failed us a second time by not reimbursing us for the massive expense they threw at our communities.

    It is a very sad day for America when our government doesn't listen and do what the majority of American ask them to do.

    •  Cheap energy is not our birthright (0+ / 0-)

      just as cheap water is not our birthright. The prevailing winds from power plants like Big Stone may not affect your quality of life, but they do affect the forests of Appalachia, which are already struggling with acid rain and the effects of the toxins that coal plants spew into the atmosphere.

      Coal has got to go. At the very least, the coal industry has to accept scrubbers that it complains are too expensive.

      There is no environmentally benign way to extract coal from the ground. Miners die and the residents of Appalachia, mostly poor people who have no political voice, pay the price for the destruction of their water sources and their way of life.

      Have you forgotten the catastrophe in Tennessee? Or does it just not matter because the lives that were destroyed are those that are near the plant and not those who reap the energy benefits of the plant?

      If your home were destroyed by a sludge flood, would you be quite so convinced that cheap fuel was worth the cost?

      Why are we, as the US of A, somehow special? Why should we continue to imperil the world's atmosphere so that a relatively few of us can power their computers or their video games?

      Green energy is the future. We ignore it at our peril.

      It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -- Thomas Jefferson

      by AtlantaJan on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 02:20:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Listen (0+ / 0-)

        All I am asking is for the government to ask and honor what the American public wants.  The majority of the American public has no interest in paying inflated energy bills.  With that said, the government has the duty to honor our wishes and not do anything that inflates energy bills.

        If they don't want Big Stone to work, fine.  Then they better pay every single resident enough money to cover the entire price of the increased energy bills.

        This is all I am asking.  In America, our government is supposed to work for the public and do what its told.  Otherwise, we are living in a dictatorship which we don't want.

        •  And I'm saying that sometimes (0+ / 0-)

          the government has to do what is best for everyone. And, often, what the American public wants, is not what's best for everyone. It's not all about us anymore. This is a global situation. Coal contributes mightily to climate change.

          Your cheap energy means that someone in Indonesia is facing rising seas.  It means that polar bears can't exist. It means that the forests of the western US are dying at rates that are unsustainable. It means that Monarch butterflies are dying because they can no longer migrate. It means that the plankton and algae that sustain vast populations of whales are disappearing.

          I'm willing to pay a few dollars more for my toaster to stop all that from happening.

          It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -- Thomas Jefferson

          by AtlantaJan on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 02:57:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I disagree with you completely 100% (0+ / 0-)

            If our government doesn't want to do the will of the American people, our government needs to be forcably removed.  It is their primary job afterall and if they can't do that, what is the point of having them there?

            This is not what we signed up for when we voted for Obama.  He promised us that he would be different then Bush and would actually listen to the public, work for the public, and do what is told of him by the public.  This move obviously smacks us clean in the face.

            Since the majority of Americans are 100% against forced price increases on energy bills our government has 2 simple things it must do.

            1.  Allow projects like Big Stone or provide an alternative that will produce energy for the same price as the coal plant could have.  The must produce something that leaves energy bills the same or reduces them.
            1.  If our government decides that they basically want to not allow a community to be provided with the energy it needs, they must provide the community with substantial money to offset the large new energy bills.  You see, now our community has to go on the open market to purchase energy.  Obviously we are buying energy that was produced from Coal anyways, but now are forced to pay a much higher price.  The government should be pumping out yearly checks to every single household to offset this.

            Failing to do either means they are not doing the job the majority of the American public asked them to do.  While it is political suicide, it is also against their job title.

            Try running for congress or president in 4 years after you forced a price increase on struggling American families during a recession.  See how far that gets you.

            Not allowing a new coal plant is stupid today because they can't provide a economically viable alternative.  Why not wait until we actually develope that alternative?

            This was punitive and cruel.  This also proves our government isn't working for the people, but against us.

            •  Okay, but this is EXACTLY why I voted for Obama (0+ / 0-)

              I suspect that the reason he was elected was to "do the will of the American people." And the American people, unlike the previous administration, think that climate change is a big deal.

              It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -- Thomas Jefferson

              by AtlantaJan on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 03:24:35 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You disagree with reality? (0+ / 0-)

                Obama promised big investment in alternatives and I support that 100%!

                He never promised to forcibly increase energy bills for struggling American families during a recession.  Honestly, who is for that?

                If you don't believe me hire a polling company.  Go out and ask American households if they are will to pay a higher price for heating/cooling their homes right now.  I think we both know the answer to this question.  Since America demands no forced price increase, I view this as a huge mistake by our government.  They can still fix their error by providing everyone of us that got effected by their mistake with money to offset the forced price increase.  They can continue to pay us until they can provide with an alternative that reduces our energy bills back to what they should have been when we were ready to use the Big Stone project.

                I mean, who thought this was a bright idea to kill this project when we have no other alternative right now?  We do need this power afterall.  Now we are simply forced to buy it off the open market at a premium.  I got new for you, that energy we buy off the open market comes from Coal plants in other areas!

                All I ask is that the government pay these households for their mistake.  I understand that Obama's government will stumble from time to time, but they need to correct this mistake quickly or they will lose the support of most folks in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

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