WA State Secret Deal on Coal-Plant Emissions Raises Ire

April 8, 2009

A tentative deal on how much pollution Washington state's only coal-burning power plant would be allowed to emit has come under fire because it was reached in secret.

Permitting decisions under the federal Clean Air Act are by law supposed to be reached under an open and transparent process. But delegation of federal authority to the states allowed the administration of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) to negotiate a deal on the permit for a coal-burning plant there.

Documents outlining the deal are still being kept secret by the state. But Seattle Times environmental reporter Warren Cornwall let the cat out of the bag with an April 7, 2009, story describing the agreement.

"The tentative deal, reached in closed-door talks between Canada-based TransAlta and officials from the Governor's Office and the state Ecology Department, governs how much toxic mercury and smog-causing nitrogen oxides can puff from the massive 470-foot smokestack at the Centralia plant," Cornwall wrote.

State officials say the still-unreleased agreement will be put before the public for comment at still-unscheduled hearings.

Critics say the state did not get enough pollution-control from TransAlta. Among those critics is the National Park Service's Don Shepherd, whose job is to protect the air in nearby national parks.