Sierra Club applauds EPA finding on Talen’s Wagner coal plant in Maryland

The Sierra Club said July 1 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel County in Maryland are in violation of health-based air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA formally classified the sections of Maryland impacted by Talen Energy‘s Herbert A. Wagner coal plant as nonattainment based on the federal standards protecting the public from dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution, the club said.

The Herbert A. Wagner coal plant, located just south of Baltimore City in Anne Arundel County, is “notorious” for historically high levels of sulfur dioxide emissions due to its lack of scrubber technology, the clug said. It added that EPA emissions data from 2015 shows that the Wagner plant was responsible for more sulfur dioxide pollution than any other plant in nearby states including Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

In 2014, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) stalled on finalizing an enforceable plan to limit sulfur dioxide pollution from coal plants around Baltimore, the club said. Since then MDE has failed to complete and implement these public health protections, which likely would have avoided the nonattainment designation, it added.

David Smedick, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign Representative in Maryland, said: “Neighborhoods near the Wagner plant like Stoney Beach and Curtis Bay deserve cleaner air, and we need to call on Talen Energy to be a good neighbor and make it happen. The Wagner plant has been polluting our air since Dwight Eisenhower was President in 1959. Fifty-seven years of coal pollution is enough. Marylanders would breath easier if the Wagner plant were simply retired and replaced with clean energy. … We’re glad the EPA will hold the state accountable for enforceable pollution reductions from our coal plants. This is just another example of why Maryland needs to move beyond coal.”

Maryland argued that other factors are bringing area into compliance

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had earlier this year filed a response to a February 2016 “120-day letter” from EPA and draft technical support document (TSD) regarding the designation of the Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station area for the 1-hour, 75 parts per billion (ppb) sulfur dioxide National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). In its letter and support document, the EPA disagreed with the Maryland governor’s November 2015 recommendation of “attainment” for the designation of the Wagner 1-hour SO2 area. The EPA indicated their preliminary intention to instead designate the Wagner area “nonattainment” based on their analyses of Sierra Club modeling.

Specifically, EPA intends to include in the nonattainment area portions of Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County that are within 35.5 kilometers of Herbert A. Wagner’s Unit 3 stack. Baltimore City, which is located between them, would be designated “unclassifiable/attainment.”

MDE noted that a March 2015 consent decree1 between the EPA, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), required that by July 2, 2016, EPA must finalize its 1-hour SO2 designation of the Wagner area as either “attainment” (same as “unclassifiable/attainment”), “nonattainment,” or “unclassifiable.”

Wagner is located in northern Anne Arundel County, and it is comprised of four steam electric generating units that burn a mix of fuels including natural gas, oil, and coal. The newer Brandon Shores Generating Station, adjacent to Wagner, has wet flue gas desulfurization (FGD) on all its units.

In April 2015, for compliance with EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), Wagner Unit 2 began burning a lower chlorine coal that is also lower in sulfur content. In March 2016, Wagner Unit 3 began operating a dry sorbent injection system to comply with MATS, the Maryland agency pointed out. As a result of these changes to comply with the MATS rule, the Wagner area’s 1-hour SO2 emissions have decreased significantly, and the area around Wagner shows compliance with the 1-hour standard, the state agency said.

New MDE nitrogen oxide (NOx) regulations that became effective in May 2015 are also pushing changes that will reduce SO2 emissions at the coal-fired electricity generating units in the Wagner area. By 2020, both of the coal-fired units at the C.P. Crane Generating Station are required to convert to natural gas or retire, while Wagner’s Unit 2 is expected to convert to natural gas or retire. All of the modeling conducted by different parties shows that reducing the SO2 emissions at Wagner 2 brings the area into attainment for the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS, the state agency argued.

EPA also pulls Crane coal plant into the compliance picture

EPA on June 30 issued a final rule establishes the initial air quality designations for certain areas in the United States for the 2010 primary SO2 NAAQS. The EPA is designating the areas as either nonattainment, unclassifiable/attainment, or unclassifiable, based on whether the areas do not meet the NAAQS or contribute to a nearby area that does not meet the NAAQS; meet the NAAQS; or cannot be classified on the basis of available information as meeting or not meeting the NAAQS, respectively. This is the second round of area designations for the 2010 SO2 NAAQS.

Said an EPA findings document on Maryland: “After careful evaluation of the state’s recommendations, all timely comments and information received during the state and public comment period, and additional relevant information as discussed in this document, the EPA determines that the area around Wagner is not meeting the NAAQS, and therefore is designating the area as nonattainment for the 2010 SO2 NAAQS. Specifically, the area is comprised of portions of Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties that are within 26.8 kilometers of Herbert A. Wagner’s Unit 3 stack, which is located at 39.17765N latitude, 76.52752W longitude.

“Additionally, based on the weight of evidence of available source contribution information and emissions data, the EPA finds that the C.P. Crane power plant in neighboring Baltimore County contributes to the SO2 NAAQS violations occurring in the immediate vicinity of Wagner, and as such, believes a nonattainment boundary which includes Crane is appropriate.”

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.