Enviro groups pressure regulators on SO2 emissions from two DTE coal plants

At a hearing the evening of March 11, Wayne County, Mich., residents and local environmental justice advocates plan to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) accountable for curbing SO2 pollution that they said exceeds federal limits.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, MDEQ must create a plan by April 2015 to address this pollution problem in Wayne County. If MDEQ fails to establish by then a plan that will protect public health, federal law provides that EPA can and must do so.

“Childhood asthma rates in Wayne County are through the roof, and DTE coal plants are the county’s biggest source of air pollution linked to asthma. Cleaning up this dangerous air pollution is long overdue,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign for the Sierra Club, in a March 11 statement. “We need the federal EPA to make sure MDEQ does the right thing. The people of Wayne County deserve a strong plan to cut this dirty sulfur dioxide pollution.”

DTE Energy‘s (NYSE: DTE) DTE Electric subsidiary is responsible for at least 85% of Wayne County’s sulfur dioxide pollution, with the River Rouge and Trenton Channel coal plants being the major contributors, the environmental opponents said. Yet MDEQ’s draft permits for River Rouge and Trenton Channel require relatively little reduction in the amounts of sulfur dioxide those plants have been emitting, and MDEQ’s own analysis acknowledges that the proposed limits would be inadequate to bring Wayne County into compliance with the air quality standards, they said. A previous draft plan issued by MDEQ last summer could have, with some minor improvements, brought Wayne County into compliance, but MDEQ abandoned that plan in favor of the inadequate limits proposed here, the groups said.

“MDEQ has apparently folded to pressure from DTE and other corporate polluters,” said Shannon Fisk, managing attorney at Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club. “If MDEQ is unwilling to take the steps needed to protect public health and comply with the law, then the U.S. EPA can and must expeditiously step in to clean up the air that residents of Detroit and downriver communities breathe.”   

Notable is that the MDEQ said March 4 that it was moving this March 11 hearing over two DTE Electric permits to the River Rouge High School, from the orginally planned River Rouge City Council chambers, because it said it needed a larger venue to handle more people.

What the MDEQ is taking comment on is a preliminary decision to act on two Permit to Install (PTI) applications from DTE Electric. DTE is proposing new SO2 limits in support of the 1-hour SO2 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for both the Trenton Channel and River Rouge plants.

  • The Trenton Channel plant is located in the City of Trenton. It consists of five boilers, tangentially fired, fueled by pulverized coal, oil, and recovered paint solids. Boilers 16, 17, 18, and 19 have a combined heat input capacity of 3,023 million Btu per hour. These four boilers are on a common steam header feeding two General Electric turbine generators with a combined output of 210 MW. Boiler 9A has a rated heat input capacity of 5,836 million Btu per hour, which serves an electric generator with a nameplate capacity of 520 MW. All five boilers are equipped with electrostatic precipitators to control particulate matter emissions.
  • The River Rouge plant is located in the City of River Rouge. The facility consists of two boilers fueled by pulverized coal, natural gas, blast furnace gas, coke oven gas, and recovered paint solids. The boilers have a combined heat input capacity of 4,950 million Btu per hour and each serve a turbine generator with a combined output of approximately 540 MW. Both boilers are equipped with electrostatic precipitators to control particulate emissions.

In 2013, the U.S. EPA designated a portion of Wayne County as being in nonattainment with the 1-hour SO2 standard based upon registered exceedances at an air monitor operated by the MDEQ. Both DTE facilities are located in this nonattainment area. In an effort to bring the nonattainment area into compliance with the 1-hour standard, the MDEQ is following the process outlined in the Clean Air Act. This requires the MDEQ to submit to the U.S. EPA a State Implementation Plan (SIP) within 18 months of the nonattainment designation. The SIP must include legally enforceable measures to enable the area to regain attainment of the 1-hour SO2 standard within five years. The SIP will be submitted to the U.S. EPA in April 2015.

In support of that plan, DTE has elected to establish lower, federally enforceable SO2 emission limits and use a continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS) for SO2 emissions.

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.