On February 18th another permit, Northern Michigan University Ripley Heating Plant, for a new coal facility was remanded by U.S. EPA’s Environmental Board of Review. The Board remanded the permit because the State (the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), in issuing the permit, failed to address whether CO2 was a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The most interesting aspect of the decision is that the Board apparently gave absolutely no weight to former EPA Administrator Johnson’s Memo which said CO2 was not a "regulated pollutant" and therefore new permits need not consider BACT controls for CO2. Here is what the Board said on the issue:
For the reasons set forth in that decision (Deseret Power), we similarly remand the CO issue here, directing MDEQ, guided by our findings in Deseret, to undertake the same consideration whether the CAA’s “pollutant subject to regulation” language requires application of a BACT limit to CO emissions.
The Board does not elaborate or even address the Johnson memo. Therefore, it is impossible to know whether new EPA Administrator Jackson’s grant of the Sierra Club’s petition for reconsideration rendered the Johnson Memo meaningless. That seems like a difficult legal conclusion to reach given the fact Jackson’s action specifically did not block the effectiveness of the Johnson memo while it was undergoing review.
The permit had authorized Northern Michigan University (NMU) to construct a new circulating fluidized bed (“CFB”) boiler at the Ripley Heating Plant on its campus in Marquette, Michigan. As permitted, the CFB boiler will function as a cogeneration unit that provides both electrical power and heat to NMU’s facilities through the burning of wood, coal, and natural gas
Another interesting aspect of the decision was the Board also remanded the BACT analysis for the SO2 limit. The permit called for a mix of fuels- mainly wood and coal. The Board found there was not enough information provided to justify the limited amount of wood which would lower SO2 emissions. The Board also questioned the fuel choice relative to coal. It said the MDEQ needed to provide more information as to why lower sulfur coal was not required to lower SO2 emissions.
The BACT requirements for fuel choice are interesting. For instance, once (not if) CO2 is regulated would BACT require a coal and biomass mix which can lower emissions of CO2? This could be very good news for biomass producers who blend biomass with coal to form briquettes or pellets.