Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a petition by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to limit sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant. Emissions from the coal-fired power plant, Portland Generating Station in Northampton County, have adversely impacted air quality in four northwest NJ counties: Warren, Sussex, Morris, and Hunterdon. The EPA has ordered the plant to reduce its SO2 emissions by 81 percent over a three year period.
It’s known as the “Transport Rule”. Under the Clean Air Act, states can file petition against polluters in neighboring states in which the neighbors’ air emissions negatively affect the state’s air quality. Due to the prevailing winds in the United States, the eastern states are the ones most affected. EPA estimates that the transport rule will reduce SO2 emissions 71 percent from 2005 levels by 2014, and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions by 52 percent.
The NJDEP has found the transport of emissions from the PA plant to be unlawful and filed a petition in 2010 for the EPA to take action. The NJDEP determined that these emissions significantly contribute to nonattainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2 and particulate matter (PM), particularly in Knowlton Township in Warren County. Excessive exposure to SO2 can cause respiratory difficulties, especially children, the elderly, and people with asthma.
As part of the petition, NJDEP include several exhibits such as several air quality monitoring and analysis, and existing wind fields in the region. The evidence points directly to the PA plant as the cause of nonattainment in the northwest NJ region. EPA conducted their own modeling which concurred. Usually, a mix of sources from multiple locations is responsible. But in this case, the PA plant alone is found to be the culprit.
Coal-fired power is one of the dirtier sources of electricity which the US uses, and it uses a lot of it. Coal plants emit large quantities of SO2 and NOx which contribute to respiratory difficulties as well as acid rain. They also emit large amounts of particulate matter. There are control devices available for capturing these pollutants in the flue gas before release into the atmosphere. However, current technology cannot capture all of it, and many plants are not equipped with the newest state-of-the-art equipment.
Now, the EPA has ruled in favor of the NJDEP petition and will be making new requirements of the Portland Generating Station. They will be accepting comments on this proposal until May 27, 2011 and will be holding a hearing on April 27, 2011 in Oxford, NJ to get public comments. The hearing will provide stakeholders to voice their opinions verbally and in writing.
Click here for more information on EPA’s actions.
Article by David A. Gabel, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.