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Midwest Generation asks relief from 2015-16 emission standards

Douglas McFarlan (left) president Midwest Generatiraises his has he is sworn testify during an Illinois PollutiControl Board hearing Midwest Generation's

Douglas McFarlan (at left), president of Midwest Generation, raises his hand as he is sworn in to testify during an Illinois Pollution Control Board hearing on Midwest Generation's request on a variance to operate its local plants at the Health Professions Center at Joliet Junior College Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 31, 2013 2:11AM

JOLIET — Midwest Generation leaders appeared at a state hearing on Tuesday, seeking relief from certain emission standards in 2015-16, as the company is currently facing financial hardships.

The company — which operates coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Joliet and Romeoville — is seeking a variance from two parts of the Illinois Combined Pollutant Standard.

The firm is seeking the variance from the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Several board members attended the Tuesday hearing at Joliet Junior College.

Specifically, Midwest Generation is seeking relief from the 2015-16 sulfur-dioxide system emissions rate limit. The company is seeking an alternative rate of emissions allowed, and a new limit on tons of emissions, for that time period.

The company also is seeking a five-month deadline extension regarding emission-control equipment requirements for one unit at the Waukegan plant.

During those years, the company still would reduce emissions, but not as much as the original rule required, company officials said.

In December, Midwest Generation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The firm operates a coal-fired power plant in downstate Pekin as well as the Chicago area facilities.

“Midwest Generation is seeking a variance of this nature as a last resort based on financial hardship caused by economic and market circumstances that could not have been foreseen when the (Combined Pollutant Standard) was negotiated in 2006, or when it was adopted in 2007 by this board,” Douglas McFarlan, company president, told state board members.

McFarlan said Midwest Generation remains committed to reducing air emissions. Other company leaders spoke about Midwest Generation’s financial hardship and why the variance is needed.

“We would not be here if we had not concluded that we had exhausted every self-help measure reasonably available to us — financially, technically and operationally — for following the CPS,” McFarlan said, referring to the state standard.

“In fact, we’ve been fully compliant with the rule from 2008 to the present. And we continue to comply with the original limit of the rule in 2013 and ’14, even if this variance is granted. After that, sulfur dioxide emissions will be altered only for two years, 2015-2016, during which time an alternative rate and a new limit on tons of emissions would apply.”

If the variance is granted, the company will continue to pursue the goals of state environmental regulations, McFarlan said.

“Even with the variance, we will be investing in the design, planning, and/or installation of emission controls every year to 2019, just as we have done every year since the CPS was adopted in 2007,” McFarlan said.

Midwest Generation seeks to hit the goals established by the state standard for the year 2019, he said. The variance for 2015-16 will not change that, he added.

“We do not seek to extend the timeline of the CPS or relax the emission limits that will be in effect when the CPS is fully implemented in 2019,” McFarlan said.

The company faces tough decisions, McFarlan told board members.

“This is what we consider to be a very limited variance, to put us in the best possible position to make some very tough decisions about investments that we can make, operations that we can sustain, and living-wage jobs of hard-working men and women that we can preserve,” he said.

“We are a company that is undergoing a financial restructuring in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. Given the CPS, we face near-term decisions that we need to begin making almost immediately, with respect to investing hundreds of millions of additional dollars in capital investments in emission controls.”

“There has been a lot of work done at those plants,” he said. “And that will continue, even if this variance is granted.”

Ellen Rendulich is a director of CARE, also known as Citizens Against Ruining the Environment. The Lockport-based environmental group has been following the issue. Rendulich opposes giving Midwest Generation a variance.

“Sulfur dioxide poses a serious threat to our health and our environment. It contributes to asthma attacks, chronic pulmonary disease, along with respiratory diseases. And the pollution it forms in the atmosphere has been linked to cardiovascular problems and premature death,” Rendulich said.

“That could be me, my family, my friends, or any of us here today,” she said.

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