June 28, 2005
MADISON - The Citizens Utility Board called today's decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to support the construction of two power plants in Oak Creek a major setback for Wisconsin's consumers and the environment.
In a 4 to 2 vote, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's invalidation of the construction permit issued to We Energies by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC).
"The Wisconsin Supreme Court shirked its responsibilities to protect the public interest by supporting the harm to our health, economy, and environment caused by coal-fired electricity," said Charlie Higley, CUB executive director. "Today's decision by the Supreme Court sends the message that the needs of utilities outweigh the needs of the public."
The four justices that formed the majority ruled that the PSC and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) appropriately reviewed the information presented in the proceedings at the PSC, and that the court had no reason to overrule the decisions made by these two agencies in approving the two 615-megawatt coal-fired plants to be built near Oak Creek.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote a dissenting opinion, criticizing the inadequacy of the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the PSC and the DNR. Abrahamson and Bradley were concerned that the impacts on Lake Michigan that will be caused by the power plants' cooling system were not adequately explained in the environmental impact statement, nor were alternative technologies examined. They explained that the courts have a responsibility to throw out poorly prepared environmental impact statements. They criticized the majority's acceptance of the flawed EIS as a "whitewash."
Although not a party to the legal challenge, CUB opposes the Oak Creek power plants because they will be too costly to consumers and damaging to the environment. If built, the $2 billion Oak Creek project will bring huge profits to We Energies while causing unacceptable damage to aquatic life in Lake Michigan by using a power plant cooling technology banned in Illinois for more than 30 years.
"Without checks by our courts, agencies like the Public Service Commission and the Department of Natural Resources will continue to approve harmful and costly power plant proposals put forward by utilities by failing to do their jobs under state and federal law," concluded Higley.
The Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin is a member-supported nonprofit organization that advocates for reliable and affordable utility service and that represents the interests of residential, farm, and small business customers of electric, natural gas, and telecommunication utilities before regulatory agencies, the legislature, and the courts.