Earthjustice appeals Pa. coal plant permitting, applauds haze deal

Pennsylvania conservation and clean air groups filed an appeal April 6 with the state Environmental Hearing Board that seeks to force the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to renew overdue air quality permits for coal plants across Pennsylvania.

“The state of Pennsylvania is letting highly polluting coal-fired power plants off the hook from controlling their pollution, and it’s being dumped on the rest of us instead of being contained and controlled,” said Earthjustice attorney Charles McPhedran, who is representing the groups, in an April 9 statement. “The state’s inaction presents a great threat to the health of Pennsylvanians and neighboring states. That’s why we’re acting to get the state to step in and regulate the pollution.”

Major sources of air pollution must obtain Title V permits, under both Title V of the Clean Air Act and the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, authorizing their operation. Data related to these permits is an invaluable tool for citizens seeking to understand plant operations, Earthjustice noted. The timely issuance of Title V permits provides an opportunity for citizens to be heard regarding ongoing pollution issues—and even to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to object to an inadequate permit.

Title V permits are generally valid for five years, at which point they must be renewed to incorporate any new regulations. Sources must apply for permit renewal from six to eighteen months in advance of their current permit expiration. By law, DEP must then act on applications within 18 months of submission of a complete application. In Pennsylvania, the Title V program as it applies to coal plants has been stalled for several years, and applications by the operators of many large coal-fired power plants are languishing at Pennsylvania DEP, Earthjustice said.

The appeal was prepared and filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment.

The filing with the board names 10 plants where it said permits have not been renewed, including the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield plant of FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) and the coal-fired Homer City plant of Edison International (NYSE: EIX).

The board issued an April 10 order setting a deadline of Oct. 9 for completion of discovery in this case and Nov. 7 for dispositive motions to be filed. The DEP had not filed a response to the complaint as of April 13.

Court approves partial decree on regional haze

In another area impacting coal-fired power plants across the country, Earthjustice on April 3 applauded a March 30 decision out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to approve an agreement between the EPA and conservation groups. The partial consent decree establishes firm, enforceable deadlines for action on plans to clean up air pollution in 37 states, the District of Columbia and Virgin Islands. The Clean Air Act requires these plans to curb haze-causing pollution, including that from many of the biggest and oldest coal-fired plants.

“People should not have to worry about seeing and breathing polluted air when they go to a national park,” said attorney David Baron of Earthjustice. “This settlement takes a big step toward clearing the skies in these majestic places, as the law requires.”

“Decades of pollution have sullied our skies and hampered the health of our families and beloved natural places like Yellowstone National Park,” said National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “This decree obligates states and EPA to complete air plans; if they do their job properly, when our children visit our national parks and wilderness areas they will experience clean, healthy air, not the present day asthma attacks and murky skies.”

The Clean Air Act required states to submit adequate plans by December 2007 to reduce haze pollution in major national parks and wilderness areas, but the vast majority of states missed that deadline. The consent decree requires final EPA action on haze cleanup plans for each state covered by the decree by deadlines ranging from March through November 2012.

NPCA, Powder River Basin Resource Council, Montana Environmental Information Center, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Our Children’s Earth, and Plains Justice collaborated on this action.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.