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Originally published Friday, July 9, 2010 at 6:01 PM

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Enviros challenge permit for Centralia coal plant

Environmental groups called on the Ecology Department Friday to do more to limit water pollution from Washington's only coal-fired power plant.

Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE —

Environmental groups called on the Ecology Department Friday to do more to limit water pollution from Washington's only coal-fired power plant.

Ecology issued a draft permit last month governing industrial wastewater discharge at the TransAlta plant in Centralia. The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a response to the proposal Friday on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

They said the draft permit doesn't do nearly enough to ensure the health of nearby Hanaford Creek, where the wastewater is discharged, or other rivers the creek feeds. The problem is that TransAlta uses a series of settling ponds to filter the wastewater, but some metals and chemicals - including selenium, which is harmful to salmon - aren't being filtered out, they said.

TransAlta spokesman Richard DeBolt, who is also the Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, insisted that the ponds do an excellent job of filtering pollutants. He suggested that the environmental groups simply oppose the plant out of habit.

"They're filing these grievances against us on everything we do," he said.

The TransAlta plant has been in environmentalists' crosshairs for years because it's the state's biggest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions. TransAlta and Ecology reached a deal last month to reduce mercury and smog-causing pollution at the plant, but environmentalists are objecting to the deal as insufficient.

Earthjustice attorney Janette K. Brimmer said water pollution from the plant is also a major concern, with pollution coming from the old coal mine pits on site, the plant's industrial process and the rainwater that runs off of uncovered coal piles.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushes coal plants to adopt "scrubbers" and other technology to reduce air pollution, many of the pollutants not being released into the air are instead finding their way into wastewater, Brimmer said.

The groups urged Ecology to revise the permit to require TransAlta to use additional methods for treating the wastewater, such as by introducing bacteria to the ponds that help remove the pollutants.

It isn't clear when Ecology might make a decision.

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