By DYLAN LOVANLOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) â¿¿ A nearly $1 billion project to update pollution controls at a massive Louisville power plant was touted by state leaders Thursday as a boost for Kentucky's coal industry. The upgrades at LG&E's Mill Creek Generating Station in southwestern Jefferson County are expected to create about 700 construction jobs. The improved sulfur dioxide scrubbers will also allow the 1,400-megawatt plant to continue to burn coal by meeting stricter federal air regulations that go in force in 2016. Leaders in this coal-rich state have been harshly critical of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the past, but on Thursday they praised the pollution control project at the plant. "This is another demonstration that you can use coal in an environmentally conscientious manner, said Len Peters, the secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet. Peters' boss, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, criticized EPA regulations in a major speech last year and told the federal agency to "get off our backs," joining elected officials in other coal states who have blamed declining coal production on tougher federal regulations and permit delays. Rep. Jim Gooch, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, said Thursday that the upgrade project at the power plant is "welcome news to the coal industry, that hasn't had much to celebrate in recent months." The $940 million project in southwest Jefferson County is expected to attract 700 jobs, mostly for ironworkers, carpenters and other construction workers, and will pay between $22 and $25 an hour, LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan said. The plant, LG&E's largest, burns about 4 million tons of coal a year that comes mostly from western Kentucky mines owned by Armstrong Coal Company and Alliance Resource Partners. The coal in that region, part of the Illinois Coal Basin, has a higher sulfur content than coal mined in eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia.
LG&E says the upgrades at Mill Creek will remove 98 percent of the sulfur dioxide from the plant's emissions, along with increased removal of mercury. The utility is also halting coal-burning at its Cane Run facility in Jefferson County and converting it to natural gas ahead of the coming EPA regulations.