DENVER — An environmental group wants a judge to prevent Xcel Energy from firing up a new coal-fired plant in southern Colorado until a court case determines whether pollution levels will be too high.
WildEarth Guardians filed a motion Wednesday in federal court seeking a preliminary injunction to keep the utility from starting operations at a new unit of the Comanche power plant in Pueblo.
The group filed a lawsuit in July that claims the utility is violating the law by not obtaining approval required by the federal Clean Air Act. Jeremy Nichols of the group's Denver office said the company hasn't adequately updated information required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on efforts to reduce mercury emissions.
The group's motion says the state is still reviewing the company's information, and the new unit could start operations as soon as November.
"To protect our health and safety, we need a court to prevent the startup and operation of Comanche 3 until Xcel complies with the Clean Air Act," Nichols said.
Xcel Energy and state officials have said the plant has equipment to significantly reduce mercury pollution and monitor emissions.
The Minneapolis-based utility said in a written statement Thursday that the unit was built with state-of-the-art emission controls and abides by an air permit issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health's Air Pollution Control Division.
"There simply is no valid basis upon which an injunction should be issued; the underlying lawsuit is without merit," Xcel Energy said.
The utility took part in negotiations in 2007 that resulted in statewide rules on mercury emissions. Xcel, Colorado's largest electric utility, and other large power providers agreed to cut emissions 80 percent by 2012.
Colorado's rules were approved as several states were battling the Bush administration over a mercury standard the states felt was too weak. Last year, a federal appeals court overturned the previous administration's approach for mercury reduction that allowed plants with excessive smokestack emissions to buy pollution rights from other operations that foul the air less.
The Obama administration is seeking more stringent controls on mercury.
Mercury is a powerful toxin that accumulates in fish and poses a risk of nerve and brain damage, especially to pregnant women and children.
An estimated 40 percent of the country's manmade mercury pollution comes from coal-fired power plants.