CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to overhaul state regulations on the last of Illinois’ coal-fired power plants, a move his administration says will help a struggling industry but critics argue will lead to dirtier air in Illinois and other states.

The proposed amendments to the state rules would remove limits on the rate of pollution from eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported. The change would instead impose annual caps on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen emitted by the plants owned by Dynegy Inc.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Alec Messina said the aim is to keep financially struggling coal plants open and give the Houston-based Dynegy more flexibility.

Dynegy spokeswoman Meredith Moore said the annual caps “would mean real environmental benefits.”

But Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office has questioned the proposed regulations, saying the proposed pollution caps are set so high the state would be encouraging Dynegy to pollute more.

“We want to make sure the public is getting the full benefit of the pollution standards the company agreed to meet,” said James Gignac, Madigan’s environmental counsel.

Howard Learner, president for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the changes would allow the plants to avoid installing pollution controls at its dirtiest plants and turn off the equipment at others.

“The company’s strategy is to run these plants on the cheap for as long as possible, like an old Chevy beater,” Learner said. “If the Rauner administration goes ahead with this, they’re effectively passing on the health costs of Dynegy’s pollution to the rest of Illinois and beyond.”

Environmental groups argued that it isn’t the EPA’s job to assist Dynegy.

“Now isn’t the time to go backwards,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “The state shouldn’t be putting profits ahead of public health and erasing all the gains we’ve made.”

The proposed rules must be approved by a state panel. The Rauner administration is expected to formally introduce them this month.


Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com