CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wyoming violated its own laws by not requiring a new coal-fired power plant in Campbell County to emit less air pollution, an attorney for conservation and environmental groups argued before the state Supreme Court Thursday.
The state's attorney countered that it thoroughly vetted the plant and followed laws and regulations.
The court took the case under advisement and will issue an opinion later.
At issue is whether the nation's leading coal-producing state should be forced to more strictly limit air pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide. Wyoming is the nation's largest producer of coal, and coal mining and coal-fired power plants are a big part of the state economy and revenue.
The hearing centered on a state air permit for a $1.3 billion coal-fired power plant under construction by North Dakota-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
The Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council contend the Dry Fork plant is being built with obsolete technology that allows more air pollution than newer technology. They say the state Department of Environmental Quality should require less pollution because of CO2's contribution to climate change and air pollution.
Robin Cooley, the attorney representing the Sierra Club and the council, said the state also failed to properly consider how the plant affected air standards on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana and failed to consider regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
CO2 is a byproduct of burning coal and Congress is considering legislation to limit the amount of the gas the U.S. produces.
"CO2 regulation is coming whether they do it in this permit or not, so at some point we're going to have to figure out how to deal with that problem," Cooley said after Thursday's hearing. "And we're just saying let's do it before we build a plant that's going to be here for 50 years."
Nancy Vehr, attorney for the state, said the Sierra Club and resource council were misreading the law and that the state agency followed well-established regulations and procedures in issuing the permit.
"The DEQ didn't ignore the law, the DEQ followed the law," Vehr said.
Basin Electric spokesman Daryl Hill said the plant is about 50 percent complete and the technology advocated by the Sierra Club and the resource council is designed for plants larger than Dry Fork.
"In context of the appeal, the environmental controls that are on there are some of the latest technologies, making it one of the cleanest coal plants in the country," Hill said.
Under the air permit granted by the state DEQ, the Dry Fork plant could emit up to 3.7 million tons of CO2 and 25.3 tons of methane each year. It would provide power to more than 308,000 residential homes.
Construction started in October 2007 and the plant is scheduled to be in operation in 2011.
Basin Electric provides power to nine states: Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and New Mexico.