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Environmental groups take state to court for allowing Holland coal plant expansion

The DeYoung power plant sits on the shore of Lake Macatawa in the City of Holland.
Holland Board of Public Works.
The DeYoung power plant sits on the shore of Lake Macatawa in the City of Holland.

The legal battle over a proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Holland is not over yet. The State of Michigan granted the city the necessary air quality permit in February, following years of delays. But now a number of environmental groups are teaming up and bringing the issue back to court.

Environmental groupsare asking a judge to review Holland’s air quality permit.

The petition alleges the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored state and federal laws regulating air pollution. The environmental groups also say Holland doesn’t need to expand the coal plant.

Jan O’Connell is with the Sierra Club, one of the groups backing the lawsuit. 

“We can’t have any new coal plants being built on top of what we’ve got now, especially when there’s not a need for it.”

Last year the state denied air quality permits for two coal plants including the one in Holland, based on an executive orderissued by former governor Jennifer Granholm. She said the state must factor in whether a community really needs more power.

AnOttawa County judge ruleda community’s need for more electricity is not a good enough reason to deny a permit. A judge in Missaukee County ruled very similarly in a case in Rogers City. The Snyder administration did not pursue an appeal of either ruling. 

Brad Wurfel is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the agency that granted the permit.

“The courts found very clearly that it was an overreach by the state. That’s not supposed to be a part of our permitting process. The agency broke the law. And so we had to go back and do these over again. So we’re doing that now.”

O’Connell says that switch in the agency’s stance to fight the judge’s ruling is part of the reason they’re bringing it back to court.

“The DEQ’s job is basically to protect our health, our safety. So I really feel that they bent the rules in switching their decision and now allowing this coal plant.”

Holland City officials maintain they have a right to determine their own energy needs under state law.

The environmental groups also allege the permit allows Holland to break laws regulating air pollution. Specifically, they cite new regulations the EPA enacted after Holland applied for the permit back in January 2007.

But Wurfel (with the DEQ) notes the Ottawa County judge ordered the state to review the permit based on regulations at the time they initially denied it. That was in August of 2010, before the new EPA guidelines for emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.

In a legal opinion, former Attorney General Mike Cox said the governor’s directive 2009-2, that has the state consider energy needs before authorizing air quality permits, is unconstitutional.

In the past, Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra has admitted the slower economy has dropped demand for power. But he says two advanced battery manufacturing plants coming online in the next year will use about half of the electricity generated by the proposed expansion. Those plants were not confirmed when the city first submitted the air quality permit application. Dykstra say the new boiler would burn cleaner than the facility it would replace. 

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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