Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DHEC Fails to Protect the Public's Health Again?

DHEC is at it again. From The State 9/18/07:

Coal plant clears first hurdle: Santee Cooper gets DHEC air permit despite calls from environmentalists to wait for study

By SAMMY FRETWELL - sfretwell@thestate.com

Santee Cooper won the first round Monday in its fight to build a nearly $1 billion power plant in rural Florence County.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said it will issue a draft air pollution permit for the coal-fired plant, despite calls by conservation groups for more study.

Conservationists have urged state regulators to wait for the results of a federal environmental impact statement before issuing the permit.

But DHEC officials said they can’t wait.

In an e-mail Thursday to environmentalists, DHEC air regulator Rhonda Banks Thompson said her agency isn’t allowed to hold up an air permit indefinitely when someone has “submitted all required information.’’ She said the agency will look thoroughly at the coal-fired power plant’s environmental impact.

DHEC will hold a public meeting this fall before making a final decision on the permit.

Santee Cooper, the state-owned electric utility, is under fire from conservation groups that say a new coal plant would pollute South Carolina’s air — and contribute to global warming.

Coal-fired plants are major sources of greenhouse gases, which heat the environment. Some utilities have slowed plans to build more coal plants.

In this case, the Southern Environmental Law Center says the coal-fired plant could pump 8.7 million tons of carbon dioxide and more than 300 pounds of mercury into the air each year, as well as soot. Fish throughout the state’s coastal plain are polluted by mercury, which scientists believe is raining into rivers from the air.

“It makes zero sense to issue any permit before environmental studies are complete,’’ said Blan Holman, a lawyer with the law center.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Laura Varn was not available Monday evening, but the company has said it needs a new source of power to meet growing demands in eastern South Carolina.

It also notes the environmental impact statement is being done for a wetlands permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must grant for the new plant along the Great Pee Dee River.

Corps officials plan public meetings next week in Conway and Florence. DHEC will hold a public hearing on the draft air pollution permit in November, according to plans. The agency will take public comments until then.

Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

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