The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the long awaited petition filed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from a neighboring Pennsylvania power plant. The initial petition was filed by NJDEP on September 17, 2010, where it asked EPA to assess the air quality and SO2 levels in Warren, Sussex, Morris, and Hunterdon counties. October 31, 2011, the date the petition was granted, was also an historic event, as it is the first single-source petition ever granted by EPA under section 126 of the Clean Air Act (CAA).
The Portland Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant located in Northampton County, PA is owned and operated by GenOn REMA LLC (GenOn). The age of the power plant exceeds 50 years and has no advanced pollution control technologies installed, only one of the roughly 44 percent of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. that have no pollution control devices. The Portland facility is in violation of section 110(a)(2)(D)(i) of the CAA, which prohibits upwind states from emitting pollutants to downwind neighbors, resulting in severe deterioration of air quality.
EPA conducted air quality tests to determine whether the Portland facility was contributing to the nonattainment or interfering with the maintenance of the 1-hour SO2 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The current 1-hour NAAQS for SO2, updated in 2010, are not to exceed 75 parts per billion (PPB). The modeling results revealed that each county in New Jersey had SO2 levels that exceeded the 75 ppb.
Recent scientific evidence has linked prolonged exposure to high concentrations of SO2 with serious respiratory illnesses including emphysema and bronchititus and can exacerbate exiting heart conditions and athsma. SO2 also has the ability to react with other particles in the air and produce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature deaths.
Over a year later, EPA has finalized the rule requiring the Portland power plant to reduce its SO2 emissions. The Portland facility has three years to comply with the requirements of the final rule, however EPA has established interim SO2 reduction levels that will ultimately force GenOn to begin implementing pollution reduction policies immediately. In addition, GenOn’s Portland power plant will have to submit to EPA a modeling dispersion protocol within six months of the effective date of the rule, which will demonstrate that SO2 emission levels are actually being reduced. The final rule sets limits of 1,105 pounds per hour (lb/hr) for the first unit of the power plant; 1,691 lb/hr for unit 2; and 0.67 pounds per million metric British units (lb/mmBtu), based on a 30 boiler operating day rolling average, for units 1 and 2. Portland has three years to achieve these emissions limits. Both Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator and Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie are relieved that the final rule has been signed and communities can finally breathe clean air.