Enviro groups sue EPA over air permitting for Pa. coal plants

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit on Oct. 21 against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not answering Sierra Club petitions regarding air pollution from seven coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania.

Major air pollution sources must obtain permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act, the environmental groups said in an Oct. 21 statement. The Sierra Club filed petitions with EPA describing what it said were fatal flaws in the permits for the seven plants and asking EPA to object to the permits. EPA has failed to grant or deny the permits within its 60-day deadline.

“EPA is violating the Clean Air Act by not fixing these permits,” said Earthjustice attorney Charles McPhedran. “These power plants are slipping through the cracks. Pennsylvanians deserve better—we deserve clean air.”

The Sierra Club petitions asked EPA to object to air pollution permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the following seven power plants:

  • Homer City Generating Station, Indiana County;
  • Bruce Mansfield Power Station, Beaver County;
  • Sunbury Power Plant, Snyder County;
  • Beaver Valley Power Station, Beaver County;
  • Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station, Greene County;
  • Mitchell Power Station, Washington County; and
  • Shawville Generating Station, Clearfield County.

The lawsuit against EPA was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Notable is that some of this coal-fired capacity is coming offline, even without this extra pressure from environmental groups.

  • FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) deactivated the coal units at Hatfield’s Ferry (1,710 MW net) and Mitchell (288 MW net) this month due to slack power markets and an expensive need to add yet more environmental controls due to EPA mandates.
  • The owner of Sunbury has said it plans to shut the coal capacity and build a new gas-fired power plant. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said in April that it has issued a final air permit to Sunbury Generation LP for a natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plant to produce approximately 1,064 MW (gross) or less of electricity.
  • NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) said in its February annual Form 10-K report that it would place the coal-fired units at the Shawville facility (600 MW) in Pennsylvania in long-term protective layup in April 2015.

There has been no indication of plans by FirstEnergy to shut Mansfield, by General Electric (NYSE: GE) to shut Homer City or by AES Corp. (NYSE: AES) to shut Beaver Valley. AES did say earlier this year that it took a buyout of the power sales contract for the Beaver Valley plant, leaving the plant to sell its capacity on the currently depressed open market. GE has owned Homer City for years as a passive owner, but last year had to take over the plant after an affiliate of Edison Mission Energy had to give up the plant leases due to financial problems.

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.