Virginia officials have slammed the door on an attempt by Shenandoah National Park to stop more than a dozen proposed coal-burning power plants because of concerns they would spew more pollution into the park's already hazy air.
The state Department of Air Pollution Control rejected Friday the National Park Service's argument that a proposed 786-megawatt plant in southern Virginia, to be built by Virginia Power and the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, would worsen the park's problems from acid rain, haze and other contamination. It scheduled a public hearing on a permit for Dec. 5.
The state's decision drew strong criticism yesterday from park officials, who said they would likely appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency if the plant is approved, and by environmental groups, who are considering a lawsuit.
"Virginia is saying, 'We don't care if Shenandoah Park is going down the tubes,' " said David Bailey, executive director of the state chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Shenandoah National Park officials contend so much haze reaches the park already that any new sources of pollution, even relatively clean ones, are unacceptable unless existing pollution is reduced. Their opposition to the power plants was the first by any federal park officials in the nation. The 195,000-acre park stretches between Front Royal and Waynesboro in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But Virginia officials said the park failed to say how much more pollution the Halifax County facility would add, a feat park officials say is technologically impossible. State officials also said that because most of the park's pollution comes from other states, Virginia cannot solve the problem itself.
"It's a regional problem, therefore it demands a regional solution," said state air board spokeswoman Beth Lester.
"If each state has the same reaction, it's very clear that nothing will happen because you'll have a big circle of people pointing fingers," replied Steve Goldstein, spokesman for the U.S. Interior Department, which includes the National Park Service.
Carl Baab, a spokesman for Virginia Power, said the utility's studies show the plant would have only a negligible impact on air pollution, and that the generating capacity is "an integral part of our planning to meet growth and demand from our customers."
Meanwhile, the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Conservation Council of Virginia, tried to throw another roadblock in front of the proposed facility yesterday. It urged the federal Rural Electrification Administration, which is guaranteeing a loan for the plant, to require an expanded environmental impact statement.