Enviro Groups Argue Ala. Power Plant Permit Could Violate Federal Sulfur Rules

James M. Barry Plant in Mobile County

Gasp and the Sierra Club have challenged a permit issued for operation of Plant Barry, near Mobile, saying it could allow the plant to emit sulfur dioxide at levels that violate federal standards.

Sulfur dioxide is a major contributor to fine particle air pollution that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined can, even in exposure of five minutes, cause decrements in lung function, aggravation of asthma, and respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity. Studies also have linked it to premature death.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management issued the permit Feb. 2, according to a statement from the environmental groups. They have filed a petition challenging it with the EPA.

Sierra has objected to the sulfur dioxide regulations before and drafted maps showing Plant Barry’s pollution plume reaches a high percentage of Black and indigenous communities that have elevated rates of poverty and cancer.

“Plant Barry is an albatross on Mobile County,” Carol Adams-Davis, leader of the Mobile Bay Sierra Club group, said in the statement. “Its coal ash ponds are an enormous threat to our water and, as our expert analysis demonstrates, its continued dirty coal burning is a threat to our air and subsequently to the health of communities nearby. Unfortunately, Alabama state environmental regulators refuse to actually regulate Alabama Power. We hope that the EPA will step up in their absence.”

Michael Hansen, executive director of the Birmingham-based Gasp, said his group was founded to fight against air pollution and for Alabamians’ right to breathe clean air.

“Air pollution is one of the world’s leading causes of premature death and disease,” he said. “Alabama Power’s coal plants have been polluting our air for decades. As we have detailed in our comments to ADEM and to EPA, there are significant opportunities to reduce these emissions and protect public health. We urge EPA to act expeditiously to curb Plant Barry’s pollution.”