updated 6/28/2005 12:11:17 PM ET 2005-06-28T16:11:17

State regulators acted properly in approving a huge coal-fired power plant, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in rejecting a challenge by the state of Illinois and environmentalists who say it would pollute air and water across the Midwest.

Opponents of the $2.15 billion project argued the Public Service Commission did not do a complete review of the Wisconsin Energy proposal and failed to study whether cleaner-burning natural gas was a viable alternative to coal.

The Supreme Court voted 4-2 to reject those arguments, saying the PSC followed the law when it gave its blessing to the project.

The twin-boiler plant along the Lake Michigan shore at Oak Creek, a Milwaukee suburb, would produce enough electricity to power 615,000 homes. It is part of the utility’s $7 billion, 10-year Power the Future plan.

Consumer products giant S.C. Johnson & Son, based at Racine, and environmental groups sued the state over its approval of the plant, and the state of Illinois later joined the suit.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Lake Michigan and the states around it would be exposed to toxic mercury emissions and other pollution. Madigan said the coal-burning technology planned for the facility is banned in Illinois. Chicago is 80 miles from the plant.

Although the court’s ruling turns back the main challenge to the project, other legal challenges are still pending. They include a lawsuit against the permits for the plant’s cooling system, which will suck in 2.2 billion gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan and return it 15 degrees warmer. Environmentalists argue the warmer water and intake system would harm plant and animal life in the lake.

Construction was slated to start early this year but was delayed by the court challenges.

We Energies, the Wisconsin Energy subsidiary that will operate the plant, and others argued there was no viable alternative to meet the booming demand for electricity in southeastern Wisconsin. The state Department of Natural Resources and We Energies say modern emission controls will drastically cut the pollution.

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