Pennsylvania agency agrees to changes in coal plant air permitting

Earthjustice said June 12 that as a result of a appeal to a state board that it had brought on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Clean Air Council, and PennEnvironment, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has updated Title V air permit for coal plants across the state.

Responding to a legal appeal by the environmental groups seeking updated operating permits for nine coal plants that had languished for up to seven years, DEP proposed and issued since May 2012 new permits for seven plants, the group noted. Two other plants, Elrama and Armstrong, have been shuttered, it added.

DEP is also proposing the addition of a protection against “air pollution” to permits for three coal-fired power plants—Hatfield’s Ferry, Mitchell and Homer City. These permits will provide extra protection against public health threats, Earthjustice said.

Major sources of air pollution must obtain Title V permits authorizing their operation. Air pollution requirements may be enforced by government and citizens alike, and 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 a permit that is inadequately protective, Earthjustice said.

“Various provisions regulating coal plants have been updated recently and these operating permit renewals will ensure coal-plant owners, DEP and citizens can identify what regulations apply to a facility and assess compliance,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council.

“Two dirty coal-fired power plants are no longer polluting and now seven more will be held accountable for their air pollution going forward,” said Zack Fabish, an attorney with Sierra Club. “This is a great example of citizens demanding clean air and getting the government to regulate for it.”

The settlement of those environmental groups with the DEP, filed June 5 at the state Environmental Hearing Board, stipulates that:

  • The appeal as to the claims for the following power plants, which have since gotten renewed air permits, is withdrawn: AES Beaver Valley, Hatfield’s Ferry, Homer City, Mitchell, Montour, Sunbury and Bruce Mansfield.
  • The appeal as to the claims for the Elrama and Armstrong Title V permit renewals is hereby dismissed without prejudice to the right of appellants to raise in any other proceeding any and all factual or legal issues raised in this one;
  • Within 20 days of receipt of any maintenance plans regarding either the Elrama or the Armstrong power plant, the department shall provide appellants with a copy of said maintenance plan; and
  • Within 10 days after Nov. 30, 2013, the department shall provide appellants with a written statement stating whether any maintenance plans have been received regarding Elrama or Armstrong.

The board approved the settlement on June 7.

The affected power plants are owned by various companies. For example, FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) has said that Armstrong is one of a group of coal-fired plants in the region that it has idled within the past year or so. GenOn Energy, now part of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), has said that Elrama units 1-3 (289 MW) were mothballed in June 2012 (with a plan to retire them in March 2014) and Elrama unit 4 (171 MW) was mothballed October 2012 (with a plan to retire in March 2014).

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.