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For Immediate Release, March 4, 2008

Contact: Elizabeth Crowe, (859) 986-0868,
Wallace McMullen, (502) 228-0016,
Matt Vespa, (415) 436-9682 x 309,

Suit Filed Against Federal Agency to Assess
True Coal Costs for Proposed East Kentucky Power Plants

SAN FRANCISCO— Three environmental organizations today filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural Utilities Service program to force the agency to link its analyses of the impact of East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s proposed power plant and power transmission lines.

The Rural Utilities Service is considering providing federal funding to East Kentucky Power for construction of two proposed power plant units at its Smith station in Clark County, Kentucky. Getting electricity from the Smith plants to customers would require 36 miles of new power transmission lines in Clark, Madison, and Garrard counties, according to the power cooperative. Neither the state nor federal government has yet given a permit to East Kentucky for the new power plant units.

"Kentucky needs to develop its economy with efficiency and diversified, clean renewable electricity in order to move into the 21st century. We do not need more dirty coal," said Wallace McMullen, energy chair of the Kentucky Sierra Club.

The plaintiff groups — the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity — say that unless the Rural Utilities Service’s assessments of the power plant and the power lines are combined, Kentuckians won’t have a full picture of the dirty impacts of coal. Coal-fired power plants emit large quantities of harmful soot, heavy metals such as mercury, and greenhouse gases into the environment. This pollution can result in an increase in respiratory problems, heart disease, and other health impacts. Coal prices are also rising; economists say that the price has risen 400 percent in the past six years, and the risks of increased regulations on dangerous carbon dioxide emissions are likely to drive those costs much higher.

The groups’ complaint also says that in failing to assess the impacts of the power plant and power lines together, RUS is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which states that closely related proposals should be analyzed together.

“EKPC wouldn’t need the transmission lines without its new power plant units, and it couldn’t use a new power plant unit without the proposed transmission lines,” said McMulllen. “It’s like an auto dealer trying to sell someone a car at full cost, but without the tires. As a customer, you’d have to consider the cost of the car and the tires together before deciding whether or not it was worth it.”

“EKPC’s proposed power plant units and transmission lines constitute a ‘major federal action’ under NEPA and would have major consequences for the health and well-being of Kentucky communities,” said Elizabeth Crowe, director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. “We know enough about the harmful effects of power plant pollution on our health, the environment and our pocketbooks to act to prevent any more negative impacts.”

In February 2008 Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth released a report detailing an energy-efficiency and renewable-energy portfolio for East Kentucky Power Cooperative that could meet its customers’ electricity needs without new coal-fired units.

“Investment in efficiency and renewable energy programs like those in the portfolio would be a far wiser choice for EKPC than throwing good money after bad for electricity from coal,” said Crowe. “Efficiency and renewable energy programs provide reliable, clean electricity and new economic opportunities for our state.”

RUS appears to already be aware of the high financial risks associated with coal. Just last week, the agency decided not to provide funding to a Montana electric cooperative for a coal-fired power plant, due in part to cost issues.

“Coal-fired power plants are dirty, dangerous, and obsolete technology,” said Matt Vespa, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is time for our federal agencies to catch up to the demands of U.S. citizens for clean air, better health, and protection of the environment. At minimum, the government needs to conduct a full environmental analysis of this proposal, so that we can all consider the best path toward our energy future.”


Copies of the complaint are available upon request.

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