Wolverine, a Cadillac, Mich.-based generation and transmission cooperative, received the permit for the $2 billion project June 29 from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which, under Republican Governor Rick Snyder, reversed a decision last year by the same agency to deny the permit. That came during the administration of two-term Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, a coal critic who strongly favored renewable energy, especially wind power.

Wolverine appealed that ruling to the courts and on January 28 Missaukee County Circuit Judge William Fagerman found the DEQ “exceeded its authority” in turning down the permit after determining the plant was not needed.

In a lawsuit filed in October in Ingham County Circuit Court, Sierra Club and NRDC challenged the DEQ’s latest permit decision in an attempt to prevent the project from going forward. Among other things, the suit claims the agency failed to consider less-polluting options for the project, such as using natural gas instead of coal.

“Wolverine’s proposed coal plant is, as the Michigan Public Service Commission staff found, an unnecessary and costly mistake,” said Shannon Fisk, senior attorney at NRDC’s Midwest office.

DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said the agency was confident it would withstand the legal challenge. “These groups should be aware that the department was directed to reconsider this permit denial by a circuit court decision,” he said. “The denial…was based on a determination by the Michigan PSC that it was not necessary. That step was inserted in the process at the direction of the governor of the previous administration, and it’s not how the DEQ normally evaluates permits.”