Senators urge EPA to grant break to Pennsylvania waste coal plants

U.S. Senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sent an Oct 15 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson  asking for the creation of a separate subcategory for waste coal plants in new regulations that could otherwise cause them to close.

In the letter, Casey and Toomey said that Pennsylvania waste coal plants, which help clean up often massive old piles of waste coal that leach polluted water, make an important environmental contribution. But they said Pennsylvania’s waste coal plants need the agency’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to better reflect the unique nature of cleaning up waste coal.

The letter was joined by several members of Pennsylvania’s delegation, including Reps. Mark Critz, D-Pa., Jason Altmire. D-Pa., Tim Holden, D-Pa., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Tom Marino, R-Pa., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

In Pennsylvania, 14 affected waste coal plants help reduce coal refuse that is located in abandoned piles in communities across the state, which improves the environment and livability in countless cities and towns, the senators said. Pennsylvania’s plants have low mercury emissions and are on track to meet the new standards, yet one aspect of the new rule does not recognize the unique nature of the waste coal business: the fact that the hydrochloric acid (HCl) standard could push these plants out of business.

“Pennsylvania’s waste coal plants are making important contributions to communities across the state by creating jobs and improving the environment. It’s important that the EPA takes this commonsense step to allow Pennsylvania companies to continue to grow the economy while reducing emissions,” Casey said. “It’s time EPA give Pennsylvania’s waste coal companies the certainty they need to continue their work.”

“As Pennsylvania’s waste coal plants continue to make strides in reducing coal refuse, it is important that the EPA fully recognizes their environmental benefits and unique operations,” Toomey said. “Without this commonsense change, many of Pennsylvania’s waste coal plants may be forced to close their doors, hurting our state’s already fragile economy and costing us jobs.”

Getting rid of waste coal piles should be considered an environmental priority

Casey and Toomey’s letter asks the EPA to recognize the role that waste coal plants play in reducing the amount of waste coal in communities across the state and to tailor the regulation to allow these plants to continue their work as they move forward with reducing emissions.

The Senators wrote, “We are concerned about the effect that the current HCl emission limit could have on the ability of these plants to operate because this industry provides so many benefits to people and the environment. This industry provides the only current viable option for removing coal refuse stockpiles from the environment without shifting such costs to public sources. Should that option become unavailable, the entire responsibility for removal and clean-up would fall on taxpayers and the government, a task the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has testified would cost billions of dollars and take over 500 years to accomplish.”

These 14 plants provide unique environmental benefits by using modern circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology to convert coal refuse into energy. Operation of these plants results in the reclamation of idle or abandoned mine lands and strip mines as well as the abatement of acid mine drainage from these lands, all at no cost to taxpayers.

“We have been informed that the coal refuse to energy plants can meet the MATS mercury standard and that these plants are so effective in removing mercury that such emissions are typically measured in ounces per year, some of the lowest levels in the country,” the senators wrote. “We have also been told that the plants can meet the MATS particulate matter emission rate which is used as a surrogate for the non-mercury HAP metals. However, we have been informed that the EPA study conducted by Sargent & Lundy (used as a basis for the MATS rule) did not consider the effects of the MATS HCl standard on coal refuse fired CFB boilers. Consequently, the plant operators state that they cannot economically meet the MATS rule HCl emission limit.”

Fuel switching is not an option for these plants as that would end the reclamation of the old coal piles, a state priority. “Thus, we ask you to consider modifying the MATS rule through the creation of a subcategory-specific HCl emission limitation so that these sources may continue to provide critical environmental benefits in Pennsylvania,” the senators wrote. “This request aligns with the approach that EPA has taken toward sub-categorization under other MACT regulations.”

The affected plants include Northampton, Panther Creek, Scrubgrass and Cambria Cogen, with the plants being around or less than 100 MW in size.

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.