EPA chief Whitman takes tour of clean-burning coal plant

Friday, July 26, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A coal-fired generating plant in eastern Kansas City shows that the country can have an adequate energy supply without hurting the environment, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

Christie Whitman made the comments after touring the Hawthorn generating station, which was rebuilt with the newest clean-burning technology after being destroyed by an explosion in 1999.

The station, owned by Kansas City Power & Light Co., has reduced the emission of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and other particulates by between 88 percent and 99 percent since it returned to production in June 2001, the company said.

"This plant shows that clean coal technology is not a dream of the future," Whitman said. "It is here today. It is already providing extraordinary reductions in emissions here."

The plant uses low-sulfur coal, burning an average of 7,000 tons a day at full capacity.

Steve Easley, KCPL's vice president of generation services, said the technology includes low-noxious burners and a selective catalytic reduction unit to reduce nitrogen oxide; a dry scrubber for sulfur dioxide; and a pulse-jet bag house, which is 13,000 10-meter bags that eliminate most of the particulates before they are released into the air.

Easley said some of the devices are used in other energy plants but that the Hawthorn plant is the only one using all of them, at permissible emission limits that are lower than anywhere else.

Unrealistic opponents

Whitman said opponents of coal-burning utilities are being unrealistic, noting that coal currently provides nearly 50 percent of the country's energy. Even with conservation and alternative energy, that figure will likely still be 25 percent in 20 years, she said.

"This plant is another example that we do not have to have either a clean, healthy environment or a thriving economy. We can and must have both," she said.

Bernard Beaudoin, chairman of Great Plains Energy, which owns KCP&L, praised Whitman and the Bush administration for working more closely with utilities to meet the country's energy needs.

"I am glad to see this administration believes in alternatives to the old-fashioned command and control attitudes," Beaudoin said. "We strongly support greater sanity and clarity in the review process for these plants."

But Eric Uram, regional representative for the Sierra Club's Midwest office in Madison, Wis., said the Bush administration's actions could increase emissions of dangerous particles from coal plants.

The administration is proposing a "Clear Skies" initiative that would impose limits on industry production of three kinds of pollutants, and let companies decide how to achieve those limits through earning and trading credits.

"Those new source review standards, if they are used by the utility industry, could increase emissions," Uram said. "And it allows some of these (older plants) to continue operating without improving technology."

He said the utility industry has made strides in creating new pollution-control devices, but said none of the devices reduces all dangerous emissions, such as mercury or carbon dioxide.

"We realize that we are not going to be able to immediately end all use of coal," Uram said. "But we also understand that we will continue to have problems with all fossil fuels. For a more sustainable future, we have to transition to more renewable energy."

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