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March 5 2009 12:00 AM

Feds stall proposed U.P. coal plantclouding prospects for BWLs plant.

The leading duck in a V-formation of new coal-fired power plants proposed in Michigan was shot in the shoulder Feb. 18 and sent back to the drawing board by a Federal panel.

Meanwhile, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and Gov. Jennifer Granholm traded fire over coal plant regulation in the state.

An appeals board from the Environmental Protection Agency told the state it must reconsider a state air permit granted in April for a proposed power plant at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

The feds told the state Department of Environmental Quality that it must consider regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and listed several other deficiencies in the permit.

The NMU plant was the only one of eight proposed coal plants in Michigan to make it through the permitting process, and the first new coal plant to get an air permit in Michigan in 20 years.

The ruling clouds prospects for the remaining seven proposed plants, including one for Lansing. Three of Michigan’s proposed plants have permits pending, and the rest, including Lansing’s, have not yet applied.

George Stojic, executive director of strategic planning and development at the Lansing Board of Water and Light, said the BWL is studying the matter.

“It appears that this decision adds uncertainty to the air permit process, and we’re very interested to learn how the DEQ addresses the remand issues,” Stojic said.

Bob McCann, spokesman for the DEQ, said the EPA ruling directs the state to defer to the feds on the question of whether greenhouse gases will be regulated.

“We agree with that,” McCann said. “We’ve been saying for the last year or so that we’re looking for some guidance on this issue.”

That guidance may come soon. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Carol Browner, special adviser to the president on climate change and energy, plans to follow up on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling requiring the EPA to determine whether carbon dioxide endangers public health or welfare. Carbon dioxide is the leading cause of climate change.

Browner said the agency “will make an endangerment finding,” according to the newspaper.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has already said she would reconsider a Bushera finding that carbon dioxide is not subject to regulation.

McCann said any new permit, in Marquette or anywhere, would have to withstand scrutiny by the EPA, so Michigan will wait and see what happens.

“We can issue another permit, but if it just gets challenged and sent back to us again, we won’t get anywhere,” McCann said.

Observers expect the federal ruling to come April 2, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

Meanwhile, two days after the ruling on the Marquette plant, Cox said Granholm overstepped her legal authority when she ordered state regulators to deny permits for new coal-fired plants if there were “reasonable and prudent alternatives.”

“Governors can sign bills into law, but they cannot write them,” Cox said.

Cox’s 19-page opinion, issued Feb. 20, was immediately assaulted on a variety of legal grounds. Cox is expected to run for governor this year.

Noah Hall, a Wayne State University law professor and specialist in Great Lakes environmental law, wrote in a blog that Granholm is “well within her discretion to order the MDEQ to consider those alternatives pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act.”

Anne Woiwode, Michigan director of the Sierra Club, said Cox’s challenge contradicts federal and state law, along with recent EPA rulings such as the one that sent the permit for the Marquette plant back to the drawing board.

“I don’t think [Cox’s opinion] is going to hold up very long,” Woiwode said. “He seems to have taken a political stance, not one that’s based on the law.”

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