Sierra Club Targets Colorado Springs, Scrubber Technology In War On Coal

In negotiations between Colorado Springs and the Sierra Club, clean coal technology has been offered up as a casualty following the Sierra Club’s September 2012 threat of a lawsuit.


The Martin Drake power plant is part of the community owned Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU), and has the net capacity to provide 254 megawatts of power generation. In addition to providing power for more than 50,000 businesses and homes, Martin Drake is also the site of a clean coal technology created by Neumann Systems Group (NSG) which has been proven to remove 95% of all sulfur emissions created by burning coal.

In September the Sierra Club filed an official intent to sue the owners and operators of the Martin Drake power plant “for repeated and continuing violations of the federal Clean Air Act”, although the Martin Drake plant had met or exceeded air quality standards. According to the CSU site, in the last 7 years the Martin Drake facility has been inspected 5 times without being cited for a single violation.

In addition to a clean record for the Martin Drake facility, Colorado Springs has been consistently ranked in the top 20 cities with the cleanest air by various organizations, such as the American Lung Association (ALA). The ALA ranked Colorado Springs 7th in the nation for the lowest level of year-round, fine-particle pollution (made up of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, dust and acids), based on data for 2008-10.

The Sierra Club complaint was based on a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) which stated that coal fired plants like the Martin Drake plant are “ripe for retirement and should be considered for closure.” The UCS report painted a bleak picture for coal plants in the future, indicating that natural gas and wind power will soon make coal no longer economical.


It should be noted as well that the Sierra Club has recently severed its relationship with the natural gas industry, one of the alternatives the UCS report used to buttress its claim that coal is no longer an economical fuel source.

As reported by the Denver Post last July, the Executive Director for the Sierra Club stated that, “It’s time to stop thinking of natural gas as a ‘kinder, gentler’ energy source.” This came after the Sierra Club received $26 million from the natural gas industry and provided vocal support for legislation in 2010 that caused coal fired plants to begin conversion to natural gas.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Association coal has been consistently cheaper than natural gas. Coal was $1.22 per MMBtu (1 MMBtu = 293 kWh) in 1999 and $2.27 per MMBtu in 2010, whereas natural gas was $2.57 per MMBtu in 1999 and $5.09 per MMBtu in 2010.

The Institute for Energy Research has produced a report which projects the levelized cost of energy production using different fuels, including natural gas technologies, coal, and wind in 2017. While the levelized costs for coal and some natural gas technologies are projected to be similar in cost and capacity, wind and off-shore wind provide a fraction of the capacity at a much larger levelized cost.

Sean Paige, a former Colorado Springs Councilman and advocate of a diverse energy portfolio, questioned the timing and integrity of the UCS report. Paige wrote about the UCS report on his site, Monkey Wrenching America, noting the organizations ties to liberal activists, “As we are reminded by the watchdog, this is the group of “scientists” that has aligned itself over the decades with decidedly left-of-center causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to opposing U.S. military involvement in Iraq.”


The inception for the UCS, according to the ActivistCash profile, was a “one-day work stoppage of scientific research” at MIT in 1969. The profile goes on to note that the strike drew appearances from liberal 60’s radicals such as, “Noam Chomsky (who is now recognized as a leader of the 21st Century “hate-America left”); Eric Mann, who led the 1960s terrorist Weather Underground; and Jonathan Kabat, who argued: “We want capitalism to come to an end.”

Paige described the threat of a lawsuit as a “standard procedure,” going on to say, “the Sierra Club’s legal team has drafted a complaint it is circulating widely and threatening to file in court in an attempt to shut Drake down. As if by coincidence, the Sierra Club’s kindred spirits at the Union of Concerned Scientists just happened to release a report that names the Drake plant among some 350-plus coal-fired power plants nationwide that the group deems ‘ripe for retirement.'”

According to emails obtained by the Colorado Springs Independent, Colorado Springs City Attorney Chris Melcher and the counsel for the Sierra Club met to discuss the Sierra Club not moving forward with its suit during the evaluation to close the Martin Drake plant. Any delay, or dismissal, appears to be dependent on certain unnamed elements of the deal being conceded to by Melcher.

Dave Nuemann, the CEO of Nuemann Systems Group, believes that one of those unnamed elements the Sierra Club will require is to sideline the contract for the emissions control technology that Neumann’s company provides.


Nuemann Systems Group first received a contract to install and test an experimental emissions control system in the Martin Drake facility in 2007. In 2011 CSU signed a new contract to design and install a full scale emission control equipment at the plant.

In an email Nuemann sent to, among others, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, Nuemann wrote, “My understanding is that recent secret negotiations with the Sierra Club conducted by the City Attorney have resulted in an agreement which partially or wholly suspends our contract. I appeal to you to have a full and open discussion with the community before you proceed to endorse the dealings of the City Attorney. These dealings by the City Attorney may appear to many of the Colorado Springs Utilities’ citizen-owners and ratepayers as truly egregious acts.”

This post was originally published at Media Trackers Colorado.


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