Environmental groups appeal EPA’s approval of Pa. haze plan

Conservation groups have appealed what they call the weak air pollution requirements recently approved for the state of Pennsylvania by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency related to regional haze.

The groups are challenging EPA’s decision, published in the July 13 Federal Register, to approve Pennsylvania’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan because they claim it will not clean up pollution that threatens human health and natural resources in the state. “Inadequate air pollution requirements for big polluters, chiefly coal-fired power plants, risk the public’s health and air quality at the Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia and other treasured public lands,” the groups said in a Sept. 11 statement. “The same pollution also harms human health, with children, pregnant women, and seniors most vulnerable.”

The National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and Clean Air Council filed the appeal with the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The groups also filed a petition directly with EPA asking it to reconsider the SIP approval.

Said the Sept. 11 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: “We intend to litigate issues raised by the Final Pa. Haze SIP in the Third Circuit, and we file this Petition for Reconsideration with EPA as a protective measure in light of the vacatur of the Cross‐State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) on August 21, 2012, after the issuance of the Final Pa. Haze SIP.”

During the comment period on the Pennsylvania haze plan, the groups had told EPA that Pennsylvania relied on the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) in preparing Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) determinations for electric generating units (EGUs) for NOx and SO2, and that CAIR had been remanded by the D.C. Circuit. They noted that EPA had proposed, via the CSAPR Better than BART rule, a limited disapproval of the Pennsylvania haze SIP and a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to replace reliance on CAIR with reliance on CSAPR. But EPA never fixed this reliance on outside rules in its final regional haze approval, the groups said.

Due to the court’s Aug. 21 decision to strike down CSAPR, “there is now no legally valid BART (or BART substitute) regulation of NOx and SO2 emissions from EGUs in Pennsylvania,” the groups told Jackson. “With no lawful emissions limitations for high‐emitting EGUs, the Pa. Haze SIP fails to demonstrate that all measures needed to meet Pennsylvania’s emission reduction obligations are included in the long‐term strategy to achieve the reasonable progress goals of the Clean Air Act and the [regional haze rule]. Therefore, EPA must disapprove the Pa. Haze SIP and adopt a FIP to establish enforceable limitations to reduce these emissions and achieve reasonable progress.”

“EPA’s plan requires no pollution controls at any source—zero,” said Charles McPhedran, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm representing the clean air advocates, in the Sept. 11 public statement. “It is unacceptable to allow large polluters to continue to dirty the air of our communities and our treasured national places. EPA must not allow air pollution in our national parks and wild lands, and in our communities.”

In 1977, Congress set a national goal of clean, haze-free air in the country’s national parks and wilderness areas. “But the EPA and the states have repeatedly dragged their feet and delayed complying with the law,” the groups said. “The EPA has violated the requirements of the haze program multiple times, with several courts placing the EPA under consent decrees to comply with the law. Indeed, Congress was so frustrated with delays by the EPA and the states that Congress amended the law in 1990 to speed up the protections for air quality. Thirty-five years after Congress set a goal of reducing air pollution in our national parks and wilderness areas, the EPA and Pennsylvania have only now come out with their first regional haze plan.”

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.