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updated: 1/2/2014 4:31 PM

Sierra Club seeks review of pollution waiver

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- An environmental group filed an appeal Thursday of an Illinois board's decision granting Dynegy Inc. more time to install pollution controls at five coal-fired power plants, calling it a "dangerous precedent."

The Sierra Club's appeal in the 4th District Illinois Appellate Court seeks a reversal of the Pollution Control Board's Nov. 21 decision to give Dynegy until 2020 to install key state-required controls on emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas and air pollutant.

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A court clerk said a schedule for proceeding with the appeal could be determined by mid-January.

Dynegy acquired the electricity-producing plants -- in Fulton, Peoria, Montgomery, Jasper and Massac counties -- from Ameren Corp. last month. It convinced the Pollution Control Board, which voted 3-1 with Chairwoman Deanna Glosser dissenting, that installing the equipment necessary to meet a key 2015 target for emissions control would be a financial hardship.

In a news release Thursday, The Sierra Club said it argued throughout the process that "the undue hardship was a self-created excuse to protect shareholders from the risky venture of purchasing old, uncontrolled coal-fired power plants."

The Sierra Club contends that the variance alone could cause 2,000 asthma attacks and 125 premature deaths in Illinois.

Dynegy spokeswoman Katy Sullivan said the company had not seen the notice of appeal. She noted that the variance "is substantially similar to a variance received by Ameren in September 2012 for the same facilities, and is more stringent in some ways."

Sullivan said Dynegy agreed to a lower cap on the sulfur dioxide the plants may produce than previously agreed to by Ameren.

The Sierra Club said the decision opened the door to pollution-control decisions based on finances, not health.

"The board's dangerous precedent could allow other polluters to challenge Illinois health and safety laws because they hurt the company's bottom line," Holly Bender, deputy director for The Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a written statement.

The deal in which Dynegy acquired the stations from Ameren was contingent on getting the waiver. Ameren unloaded the assets as it exited the merchant-generation business to concentrate on rate-regulated operations in Illinois and Missouri. Dynegy already owns four coal plants in the state.

Officials in many of the towns that host the aging plants supported the waiver. They employ about 600 people.

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