Bookbinder persuaded an administrative appeals board to consider overruling the EPA's permit on the grounds that it would vent more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Oral arguments are scheduled for late May, and a decision is expected near the end of the summer.
If Bookbinder is successful, a ruling would affect any project that comes before the EPA, which has permitting authority for power plants in eight states, all federally owned land, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Deseret's lawyer, Steffen N. Johnson, declined comment.
But this time, industry groups are jumping into the fray in a big way. "Where it's going to be precedential, we will be getting involved," said Russell Frye, who filed a half-inch-thick brief last month that supports the power plant on behalf of seven powerful trade associations, including the American Petroleum Institute, Chamber of Commerce of the United States, the American Chemistry Council and the National Assn. of Manufacturers.
Various business groups are discussing how to handle the environmentalists' challenges in a more comprehensive way, but industry sources said their members have such a wide range of positions on climate change that it's been difficult. Some suggest bringing conspiracy charges against the environmentalists if they can find instances in which the national groups recruited locals to allow them to file legal papers that they couldn't have filed otherwise. But "no one has the guts," said one industry lawyer.
Instead, Collins and two law partners wrote an article for the spring 2008 issue of the American Bar Assn.'s natural resources journal, advising clients to build in schedule and budget delays due to litigation -- because it is inevitable.
"It's good for lawyers. It's good for me," said Frye. "But it's not particularly constructive to have all these symbolic gestures that may gum up the works but won't necessarily advance what we as a society ought to be doing."
Stopping the Bonanza plant, he said, "might not give you more bang for the buck than controlling an existing source" of carbon dioxide emissions, "or replacing light bulbs."
Members of the environmental law brigade concede that stopping new plants may not be as effective in reducing emissions as getting the oldest, dirtiest, least efficient coal plants offline. Coal supplies half of America's electricity.
"We'll need to find a way to go after them, too," Persampieri said.