Monday, December 8, 2008

Sierra Club v. Franklin County Power

Oct 27: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, Case No. 06-4045. As explained by the Appeals Court, Franklin County Power of Illinois, LLC, wanted to build a 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Benton, in southern Illinois. Because the plant will emit a significant amount of air pollution, the Company must first obtain a “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the agency that the federal EPA has designated as the issuer of PSD permits in Illinois. Although the IEPA granted the Company a PSD permit in 2001, the IEPA has since made a “preliminary determination” that the permit has expired.

Sierra Club, a non-profit environmental organization sought to enjoin the Company from building the power plant by bringing suit against the Company, its parent company EnviroPower, LLC, and Khanjee Holding (US), Inc., under a citizen suit provision of the Clean Air Act. Sierra Club alleged that the Company’s 2001 PSD permit had expired because the Company had neglected to “commence construction” of the plant within an 18-month window required under the permit.

Sierra Club also claimed the permit was invalid under EPA regulations because the Company had discontinued construction of the plant for over 18 months. The district court agreed with Sierra Club on both points and granted summary judgment in its favor. The court also permanently enjoined the Company from building the plant until it obtained a new PSD permit, and the defendants appealed the decision.

The Appeals Court said, "We agree with the district court that Sierra Club has standing to pursue this lawsuit and that its claim is ripe and permissible under the Clean Air Act. We also agree that the 2001 PSD permit has expired and that the district court properly granted permanent injunctive relief in favor of Sierra Club. Therefore, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Sierra Club."

Further explaining its ruling, the Appeals Court said, ". . . the record here demonstrates that the four injunctive relief factors favor Sierra Club. First, Sierra Club will likely suffer irreparable injury if the Company builds under its expired PSD permit rather than a new permit because the former likely includes more relaxed emission standards. . . Second, legal remedies will not adequately address Sierra Club’s injury. The record shows that at least one Sierra Club member will likely suffer a decrease in recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of Rend Lake if the plant is built according to the 2001 permit. An economic award would not sufficiently compensate for this injury. . . Third, the balance of harms favors issuing an injunction. An injunction protects Sierra Club from irreparable injury while simply requiring the Company to defer construction until it obtains a permit that complies with the Clean Air Act. Finally, the record contains no evidence that the injunction harms the public interest. In fact, based on the record before us, we agree with Sierra Club that requiring the Company to obtain a valid PSD permit would likely result in decreased emissions and improved public health, which would further a stated goal of the Clean Air Act. . ."

Access the complete opinion (click here). [Please Note: The 7th circuit has a strange temporary web hyperlink nomenclature system. If the previous link does not work click on this link and enter the case number above (click here).]

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