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updated: 8/1/2013 4:18 PM

IEPA asked to toughen Waukegan coal plant permit

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  • Midwest Generation's Waukegan Generating Station, built in 1923, sits on the shore of Lake Michigan.

    Midwest Generation's Waukegan Generating Station, built in 1923, sits on the shore of Lake Michigan.
    Thomas Delaney Jr./Sun-Times Media, 2006

Associated Press

Environmentalists are asking the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to toughen a proposed water-discharge permit for a coal-fired power plant in Waukegan, claiming it fails to adequately assess potential harm to Lake Michigan water quality and aquatic life.

The permit is issued under a federal program and limits the temperature of water and the levels of pollutants that can be discharged after cycling through the plant, but critics say it doesn't go far enough.

They said that before issuing a new permit to Midwest Generation, the IEPA should require updated data on how far heated water from the plant circulates into Lake Michigan, determine whether it needs to set limits on pollutants from coal ash, expand groundwater monitoring and determine the best technology to prevent fish from being sucked into intake pipes.

The plant's last permit was set to expire in 2005, but it's been extended by the IEPA for eight years without updates. A 30-day public comment period on the agency's draft permit began with a hearing Wednesday night.

The IEPA says there is no indication there's too much pollution or heat being discharged, though the proposed permit will require thermal tests in coming years that could be considered in the next permit. The last tests were conducted in the 1970s, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Sierra Club of Illinois said the IEPA has had plenty of time to address that and other issues.

Discharge permits are supposed to be issued every five years, but it is not unusual for the IEPA to be many years behind schedule.

Officials at Midwest Generation said the plant complies with all discharge limitations and its ash ponds aren't leaking. It's also installed monitoring wells to determine the extent of groundwater pollution and whether it's coming from the plant site or other nearby industrial property.

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