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NJDEP intervenes in federal court challenge to Clean Air Act petition

njdeplogo_optCase centers on Pennsy plant polluting North Jersey air

The state Department of Environmental Protection filed a motion Monday in federal court to intervene in a Pennsylvania power plant's challenge to a federal Clean Air Act permit that requires it to substantially reduce air emissions the agency’s charges is harming New Jersey's air quality.

The power plant, located on the Delaware River in Portland, Pa., releases thousands of tons of pollutants a day into several North

Jersey counties, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.

The state is seeking permission from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene in response to the power company's appeal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision in the matter. The EPA last year granted a DEP request under the Clean Air Act, to force GenOn Energy, owner of the Portland plant, to cut emissions 60 percent by 2013, and by at least 81 percent in three years.

The EPA's decision was helpful for North Jersey residents who are impacted by air emissions from the Portland facility. It was the first time EPA had granted a petition regarding a power plant across state borders.

"It is a priority of the Christie Administration to improve air quality in New Jersey and that includes continuing to target out-of-state sources of air pollution,'' Martin said. "We support EPA in this challenge for the benefit of air quality in New Jersey and for the health of our residents.

"The amount of emissions coming from the Portland plant is staggering,'' Martin added. "The continuing negative effects on public health cannot be tolerated. We intend to press the courts to force GenOn to meet Clean Air Act requirements.''

In 2010, the Portland plant emitted more than 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), plus mercury and other contaminants into the air and into Warren County. It also negatively impacts air quality in Morris, Sussex and Hunterdon counties, and also Pennsylvania. The plant pumps out more sulfur dioxide than all of New Jersey's power plants combined.

The Christie administration has taken a stance against out of state air pollution. In addition to the action against the Portland plant, New Jersey has joined New York, Pennsylvania and the U.S. government in a lawsuit against the Homer City Station, a 1,884-megawatt power plant in western Pennsylvania that is considered one of the most polluting power plants in the nation.

New Jersey also has joined Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania in a lawsuit seeking to require Greensburg, Pa.-based Allegheny Energy Inc. and subsidiaries of First Energy to install pollution-control equipment, as required by the federal Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania law, to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide at three power plants. First Energy recently announced on of those plants would be shut down.

In 2011, the DEP's air monitoring station in Knowlton, Warren County, which is 1 mile from the Portland power plant, recorded the highest short-term sulfur dioxide levels in New Jersey, due to emissions from the generating station. The sulfur dioxide coming from the plant is known to cause a variety of adverse health effects, including asthma and respiratory failure, and environmental impacts such as acid rain and decreased visibility.

Air pollution from this plant is not limited to sulfur dioxide, but also includes high levels of nitrogen oxides, mercury, hydrochloric acid, lead and other air pollutants.

The EPA, in granting the state's 126 Petition, provided the owners of the power plant with flexibility to choose the most cost-effective strategy for meeting these emissions limits, including installing proven and widely available pollution control technologies. The DEP wants modern air pollution controls, including a scrubber, to be installed to substantially reduce the Portland plant's emissions.

For a copy of DEP's motion to intervene in the Section 126 Petition appeal, visit:

http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/petition20120206.pdf.

—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 

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