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Environmentalists ask feds to deny funding for Dairyland gas plant

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Opponents of a proposed natural gas generator in Superior are asking the federal government to deny funding for the project, saying it runs afoul of the Biden administration’s commitments to fighting climate change.

La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative and Minnesota Power are seeking a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to finance the $700 million Nemadji Trail Energy Center, which they say will help them transition away from coal-fired power plants.

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin have petitioned the RUS to evaluate the impact the 625-megawatt plant would have on air pollution and the climate.

The agency declared in May that the plant would have no significant environmental impact, but the groups point to the Biden administration’s stance on fossil fuel infrastructure and studies released this year that say any new fossil fuel infrastructure must include carbon capture technology in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“The gas plant is not needed to meet future energy demands and runs counter to everything we know about heading off the worst harms from the climate crisis,” said Sarah Horner, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Elizabeth Ward, director of the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter, said investing in fossil fuel infrastructure is “out of step” with President Joe Biden’s climate policy goals as well as those of Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s governors.

“The government needs to get out of the business of supporting unsustainable and environmentally harmful fossil plants like NTEC,” Ward said.

RUS spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Earlier this year the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that state utility regulators do not have the authority to consider the environmental impact of a plant built in another state.

Wisconsin regulators declined to consider the impact of up to 2.7 million tons of greenhouse gases, saying the Public Service Commission doesn’t have legal purview over environmental impacts of a project that isn’t funded directly by ratepayers and meets the state’s air quality standards.

Dairyland does not directly serve retail customers and, unlike regulated utilities, is not guaranteed a profit on its investments. State law limits PSC oversight over such projects.

Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin have sued the PSC in an effort to overturn the permit, approved in 2019.

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