Sierra Club accuses new Maryland governor of trying to halt clean-air rule

The Sierra Club on Jan. 22 accused Maryland’s new Republican governor, Larry Hogan, of axing, at the very last minute, new state air standards that would cut NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants.

After more than fifteen months of intensive engagement with industry and the public health community, Maryland’s Department of the Environment recently finalized new protections against air pollution from the state’s coal-fired power plants. “Last night, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Governor’s first move in office was to take the controversial action of yanking those protections at the printing press,” said the club in a Jan. 22 statement. “This action was taken after the regulations were signed and finalized by Secretary of the Environment. Health leaders in the state were dismayed to learn about the withdrawal of these vital public health protections. The safeguards had drawn strong support from health officials, faith leaders, Maryland residents, and plant owner Raven Power.”

Raven Power, by the way, actually controls three coal plants in Maryland: Brandon Shores, Crane and Wagner.

Maryland Sierra Club Director Josh Tulkin said: “We are disappointed that Governor Hogan’s first act in office is to delay these vital protections for Marylanders’ health and clean air. Marylanders are suffering every day from unhealthy air. These regulations have broad public support, and are the product of several years of work. Over 70 elected officials wrote a letter favoring these safeguards, which were also supported by Maryland businesses, including Raven Power, one of the key companies that will implement them at their coal plants. These essential safeguards, which under the compromise would have given plant owners multiple options and until 2020 to implement fully, would have finally brought Maryland up to speed with the modern pollution control technology that is more prevalent in coal-heavy states like Alabama, Kentucky and West Virginia than Maryland. That’s why the state’s independent air advisory quality body supported them unanimously.”

Tulkin added: “Right now it appears that major corporate polluter NRG Energy, the only one opposed to the protections, is successfully lobbying the Governor for dirty air and weak health safeguards, while 85% of Maryland residents still live in areas that are failing to achieve EPA’s health-based air quality standards for smog. NRG has not been consistently operating its existing pollution controls at full tilt. NRG opposes these protections because it will require them to install modern controls and run them if they continue to burn dirty fuel.”

NRG controls coal units at the Dickerson, Morgantown and Chalk Point plants in Maryland.

The Sun report in question quotes Erin Montgomery, the new governor’s press secretary, as saying that Hogan has ordered a comprehensive review of all pending regulations, opening them up for further “public input, public hearing and full due process” before they can be finalized. “We’re pretty much hitting the pause button at this point and allowing for full review,” she said. The clean-air measure, covering mandated NOx reductions, is part of that review.

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.