Board will review permit

Santee Cooper wants to build a $1.25 billion coal-fired power plant east of Florence to go along with its Cross Generating Station.

Amid a growing national debate over coal-fired power plants, the board of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control agreed Thursday to review a staff decision to give Santee Cooper an air-pollution permit for its proposed Pee Dee coal plant.

Santee Cooper wants to build a $1.25 billion coal plant east of Florence, and on Dec. 16 DHEC gave the utility an air-emissions permit, the first of several permits needed before the plan can be built.

Conservationists immediately appealed DHEC's permit to the agency's seven-member board.

During the board's regular meeting Thursday, members agreed to hear arguments for and against the agency's permit approval during a public meeting Feb. 12 at the agency's headquarters in Columbia.

After that meeting, the board could send the matter to the courts, override the staff and deny the permit, or direct staff to do additional studies, said Thom Berry, director of media relations.

The board also could uphold the staff's original decision.

Board members are appointed to four-year terms by the governor with the consent of the Senate.

"We look forward to the next steps in the process," said Laura Varn, Santee Cooper's vice president of communications.

Varn said the plant's permit requirements are the most stringent in the nation, and that DHEC's staff found that the agency met these standards.

Santee Cooper has said it needs the new plant to prevent power shortages.

Conservation groups here and nationally are taking aim at coal plants, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.