HARTFORD, CT — On the eve of Connecticut’s first unhealthy air day for the 2017 ozone season, state officials are trying again to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect residents from coal-fired power plant emissions drifting in from Pennsylvania.
It’s been 11 months since they first petitioned the EPA to hold a public hearing on the state’s petition regarding the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station in York County, Pennsylvania.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court says the coal-fired plant is contributing to the amount of ozone in Connecticut’s air, causing the ambient air quality here to fall below national standards.
The Pennsylvania plant has three major boiler units with a combined capacity of over 1400 MW. It’s the sixth largest coal plant in Pennsylvania and the three units combined emitted about 11,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions in 2014.
“Connecticut has the highest ozone levels in the northeast — which adversely impacts the health of our citizens and the quality of life in our state,” Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee said last summer when the original petition was first filed.
He said Wednesday that the lack of action continues to expose Connecticut “citizens to unhealthy air when it is clear that this plant significantly contributes to our pollution and needs to be controlled.”
Granting the petition would require Brunner Island to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, a precursor pollutant of ozone, such that the plant no longer emits at an amount that contributes to ozone increases in Connecticut. The original petition asked that meaningful reductions be achieved in no more than three years.
Tuesday’s petition asks for a public hearing to be held followed by a decision granting or denying the petition.
“A finding by EPA that Brunner Island is in violation of Section 126 will require Brunner Island, within three months, to either cease operations or to operate subject to an EPA imposed incremental schedule to come into compliance as expeditiously as possible, but in no case later than three years after the date of the finding,” the lawsuit filed Tuesday reads. “This will reduce precursor emissions that significantly contribute to 2008 ozone NAAQS nonattainment in Connecticut and will result in a more equitable distribution of the burden of controlling ozone pollution due to interstate transport.”
Under Section 126 of the federal Clean Air Act, Connecticut can petition the EPA Administrator for a finding that a stationary source in another state emits air pollution in violation of the law. The administrator, who is currently Scott Pruitt, must make the requested finding or deny the petition within 60 days after receipt, and after a public hearing.
Once the EPA makes a finding, the law requires that the violating source not operate three months after the finding regardless of whether the source has been operating under a duly issued state operating permit. The administrator may allow the source to operate beyond such time only if the source complies with emission limitations and compliance schedules as the administrator may direct to bring about compliance.
“We are using every tool afforded by the Clean Air Act to achieve emission reductions from upwind states and the power plants that operate there,” Klee has said. “Our petition is yet another salvo that sends a clear message to upwind states that Connecticut is no longer going to accept being the tailpipe of America.”
Earlier this year, Connecticut also joined a petition with eight other neighboring Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to require nine upwind states located in the west and the south to reduce air pollution that is carried to northeast states by prevailing winds, causing public health issues for area residents and economic disincentives for the region’s businesses.