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Virginia coal-fired power plant approved

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(Read caption) Mountaintop-removal mining, as seen in this February 2007 aerial photo of the West Virginian Appalachians, involves using explosives to remove up to 1,000 vertical feet of rock to get to the coal seams. The resulting debris is often scraped into the adjacent river valleys in what is called a 'valley fill.'

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A Virginia regulatory board unanimously gave final approval for a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in the state's far southwest corner.

After a two-day hearing in Wise, Va., the Air Pollution Control Board voted 5-0 to grant Dominion Power permission to begin construction on a 585-megawatt plant near St. Paul, Va.

To secure backing for the plant, Dominion promised to burn only Virginia coal, a promise that opponents say will almost certainly lead to more mountaintop-removal mining in the state. Mountaintop removal involves clearing a mountain's summit of all topsoil and vegetation, blasting off the top with explosives, and dumping the debris into a nearby valley. (The practice is criticized by environmentalists for some reason.)

The approval came with some conditions, however, as the Washington Post reports:

The board amended the permits, however, to make them more restrictive, said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
The board reduced the plant's limit for annual emissions of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant that also is found in acid rain, by more than two-thirds, Hayden said. The board also reduced the amount of mercury, a toxin that can linger in streams, that the plant can emit, he said. Dominion was required to switch another coal-fired plant in central Virginia to run on cleaner-burning natural gas.

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