EPA investigating state power plants

EPA investigating state power plants

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MADISON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notified the state of Wisconsin this week that it was starting an investigation into 15 publically owned power plants, including one at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, to determine if they were violating clean air laws.

The EPA sent a letter to the state Department of Administration asking for information about the plants “to determine whether the emission sources at these facilities are complying with the Clean Air Act.” The letter said information submitted may result in a civil or criminal action.

The letter, dated Tuesday and obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, gave the state 45 days to turn in the requested information.

Department of Administration spokeswoman Emily Winecke confirmed in an e-mail Thursday that the agency received the letter.

“It’s a request for information related to state-owned power plants. We’ve been working on these issues for some time and will continue to provide the EPA with the information they requested,” she wrote.

Gov. Jim Doyle’s spokesman did not return a message, and after-hours messages left with an EPA spokeswoman were not immediately returned.

The EPA letter comes after Doyle’s administration acknowledged that as many as eight state-run plants have violated the Clean Air Act in recent years.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration has said it would reduce coal use, use cleaner alternative fuels or otherwise limit emissions at plants that heat UW campuses in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Oshkosh and River Falls, and the Mendota Mental Health Institute.

Those locations, along with several other facilities, were identified in the EPA letter.

The state is already spending more than $250 million to convert a coal-fired plant that powers the University of Wisconsin-Madison to run on natural gas and biomass after a federal judge agreed with the Sierra Club that it was violating the Clean Air Act.

Sierra Club representative Jennifer Feyerherm said Thursday it was good news that the EPA was investigating the other power plants.

“Our state facilities should be in compliance with the law,” she said.

The EPA letter asks for information about the history of the plants, including repair records, how much energy has been produced at each one in the past 30 years, the amount of coal consumption, results of all tests for pollutants that were done at each facility, summaries of any power outages and annual emissions results.

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