Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Judge forces coal plant to clean up

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A University of Wisconsin heating plant is in violation of
the federal Clean Air Act, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz ruled in favor of the
Sierra Club in a pollution lawsuit against UW's Charter Street coal plant. He
said plant officials violated the act over the past five years with various
improvement projects when they failed to install modern pollution controls in
several recent renovations.


"Over the last five years, they have violations including
major repairs and modifications without a permit and (they) failed to contact
the Department of Natural Resources or install modern modifications to prevent
pollution like soot, smog and mercury by 90 percent," Sierra Club Clean Energy
Campaign coordinator Jennifer Feyerherm said. "It was like rebuilding a car one
piece at a time, they replaced huge parts of that plant without getting the

Shabaz's ruling outlined five separate improvement projects
spanning from 1996 to 2004. The first two projects, a $97,300 upgrade in 1996
and a $77,000 boiler project in 2001, were ruled exempt from the Clean Air Act
because they fell under the category "routine maintenance, repair or
replacement" or did not create a "significant increase in net emissions"
according to court documents.

The three other projects totaling $2,591,947 included
significant modifications "without having obtained the required preconstruction
permits" under federal statues, according to the ruling.

Alan Fish, UW associate vice chancellor of facilities planning
and management, said UW had already conducted significant studies revealing the
need for renovation, and this ruling may actually expedite the process.

"Frankly we've been working on seeing how we could replace
the old coal boilers with much more efficient technology to be able to burn
solid fuels and extensively increase the biomass fuels like cornstalks, sawdust
and things like that," Fish said. "In the process of sorting things out with
the DNR, we'll be developing a really significant renovation plan so that we
not only increase air emissions but make the plant much more efficient and technologically

Shabaz did not hand down any sanctions in Wednesday's
ruling, but a trial regarding the future of the plant will take place Nov. 26,
according to Feyerherm. Fish said in the past, rulings have focused more on
remedies and obtaining correct permits rather than handing down punishments to

Energy concerns should be on the forefront of UW's
discussions, according to Feyerherm, who said the plant, built in 1954, relies
on outdated techniques.

"There are certainly other viable options," Feyerherm said.
"Combined heat and power or cogeneration is more efficient where you use energy
once to make electricity and once to heat the building, so you double the
power, and you can burn just about any fuel, and it would be cleaner than

Fish said UW already uses the cogeneration process at its
west side facility but the "district" heating and cooling system used near
campus from the Charter Street plant could not simply be phased out.

According to Feyerherm, the Sierra Club worked in
conjunction with the Sierra Student Coalition on campus for three years and
received scarce response from UW even after their notification of intent to sue
in December. The club then waited six months, until May, before it filed this
lawsuit prompting legal investigation into the permit situation with the DNR.

Fish said the process of acquiring funds for a significant
renovation is both complex and lengthy.

"We were in dialogue [with the Sierra Club] before the
lawsuit, and I can understand their impatience," Fish said. "But the investment
in excess of $100 million has to work through the UW System and the state
budget in order to secure the resources we need to rebuild Charter Street."

Andy Jakubowski, a member of the Sierra Student Coalition
who led the group during its opposition to the "blemish on campus," said it is
unfortunate the case ended up in court in the first place, but is proud the
hard work of the groups was not done in vain.

"Our university and
the Madison community are leaders in sustainable and renewable energy research
and are looked at as role models for the rest of the state and country,"
Jakubowski said in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, the fruits of our research
have not been utilized by the campus as a whole."

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