Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that the state government will appeal a ruling by the federal District Court in Western Pennsylvania that dismissed a legal effort to force the owners of a coal-fired Pennsylvania electric plant, that the state believes is polluting New jersey air, to substantially reduce its emissions.
“We are deeply disappointed by the federal judge’s ruling,’’ the governor said. “New Jersey is adversely impacted by air pollution that comes from this coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania that is one of the most polluting power facilities in the nation, and which negatively impacts the health and welfare of our residents. This administration’s commitment to the improvement of air quality remains a top priority, and that includes targeting some of the most prolific out-of-state air polluters.”
In February, New Jersey joined New York, Pennsylvania and the U.S. government in a lawsuit against the EME Homer City Generating Station, a 1,884-megawatt power plant that emits more than 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) annually and located in a small town by the same name. The state argues that the SO2 emissions lead to the creation of fine particulate matter, which is carried by prevailing winds towards New Jersey, and contributes to acid rain.
The state’s legal action, filed in Pittsburgh, alleged that current and past owners of the Homer City Station violated provisions of the federal Clean Air Act by failing to install required state-of-the-art pollution controls when the plant underwent major modifications in the 1990s. The state is seeking an injunction prohibiting further operation of the plant except in accordance with the Clean Air Act; civil penalties for past and ongoing violations of federal law; and mitigation of harm caused by defendants’ illegal emissions.
The Homer City Station is a large coal-fired power plant, with a 1,217-foot-high smokestack, that is located 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, in Indiana County. Based on 2009 data, the Homer City plant emitted 101,000 tons of sulfur dioxide.
“Even though the Homer City power plant in western Pennsylvania is hundreds of miles away, its emissions affect public health and the environment here in our state,” state Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The federal Clean Air Act requires plants like this to install the best available devices to reduce emissions and protect the public health. We intend to see that occurs.’’
Martin said state’s attorneys have been directed to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Terrence McVerry’s ruling.
The Christie administration scored a victory when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced precedent-setting approval of New Jersey’s Clean Air Act petition, which is designed to reduce harmful air pollutants emitted from a coal-fired Pennsylvania power plant located across the Delaware River from Warren County. The state maintains the plant pours air pollution into Morris, Hunterdon and Sussex counties. Pollutants must be reduced by 60 percent in 12 months and by 81 percent within three years.
The state also has taken the lead in a lawsuit seeking to force Allegheny Energy Inc. and subsidiaries to install pollution-control equipment to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide at three Western Pennsylvania power plants. The goal is to curb emissions that negatively impact New Jersey’s air.
Inhalation of fine particles causes respiratory distress, cardiovascular disease and premature mortality, and is directly linked to increases in asthma attacks, lung diseases, and other health problems.
Meanwhile, David Pringle, New Jersey Environmental Federation campaign director, said Christie's decision to appeal the ruling does not make sense.
"The governor's announcement defies common sense," Pringle said. "It says the administration wants to litigate a less viable case against one polluter but not a more viable case against many polluters. Intended or not, it sends the message at least for today that national party politics trumped public health, sound public policy and judicious use of state resources.
"And it did so despite past support of the rule by the administration's own DEP and the continued support of diverse interests including power companies like Exelon and PSEG, business interests like the Chamber of Commmerce, states downwind of New Jersey, as well as the Sierra Club, New Jersey Environmental Lobby and Environment New Jersey," Pringle said. "This rule has such support because these interests understand it will make New Jersey's businesses more competitive with other states as well as avoid premature deaths of hundreds of New Jerseyans and thousands of cases of lung cancer, emphysema and asthma. Apparently these facts were not enough to win the governor's support."