Several environmental groups have asked a federal appeals court to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to grant a Clean Air Act Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit to the 600-MW gas-fired Avenal Energy Project proposed for construction in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The groups contend that the agency exempted the project from several key air pollution standards.

The EPA’s PSD permit for the combined cycle power plant was issued on May 27 and became effective this August. The Clean Air Act, however, allows for a court review of the decision, which may be sought by filing a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In a legal filing, the groups represented by national public-interest law firm Earthjustice said the facility proposed by Texas-based Macquarie Energy is targeted near the rural communities of Avenal and Kettleman City in California’s San Joaquin Valley, “which already has some of the most polluted air in the country.”

“On May 27th, EPA announced that it would not require the project to comply with current pollution control requirements because, according to agency officials, EPA took too long to process the permit application,” said the groups, which include the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. “Instead, the agency ‘grandfathered’ the project from requirements to show that it would not cause unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollution, and to install the best available controls for greenhouse gases.”

The groups had first challenged the permit at the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board, but the three-judge panel had said “they did not have time to fully consider the grandfathering issue and allowed the weaker permit to remain,” they said.

“EPA political appointees chose to ignore the plain requirements of the Clean Air Act, and we’re now asking the federal appeals court to reject this attempt to ignore Congress’s directives,” said George Torgun, an attorney for Earthjustice.

The groups added that the EPA was considering extending the “grandfather” policy to other “polluting industries across the country.” The agency estimates that 10 to 20 other proposed major industrial projects with current applications before the agency could be “grandfathered” under this new approach.

Sources: POWERnews, Earthjustice