New Jersey Petition May Ease Airborne Pollution from Pennsylvania Power Plant

EPA proposes plan that to require Pennsylvania plant to reduce sulfur dioxide omissions by 80 percent over three years

A long-running effort to reduce pollution from a Pennsylvania power plant accused of fouling New Jersey’s air may finally be nearing fruition.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepted New Jersey’s Clean Air Act petition that seeks to force a Pennsylvania coal-fired power plant to dramatically reduce harmful air pollutants that drift over the Delaware River and into North Jersey, and which has caused longstanding public health concerns for residents living in that region, according to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin.

The EPA, in accepting the state’s petition, has proposed a rule to require the power plant, operated by GenOn Energy (formerly Reliant or RRI Energy) in Portland, PA, to cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by 81 percent over a three-year period, significantly reducing pollutants that can aggravate asthma and cause other respiratory difficulties.

“It is a priority of this Administration to achieve improved air quality for all residents of New Jersey,” said Governor Chris Christie. “Targeting out-of-state air pollution that negatively impacts our state is just one of many initiatives we are undertaking to benefit the public health and improve our environment.”

Martin praised the federal decision. “Most important, this is a win for the public health and welfare of North Jersey residents, and especially people in Knowlton Township and Warren County, who have long been directly in the path of these unhealthy emissions,” he said. “That situation is not acceptable.”

Martin vowed to ensure that the federal process — prompted by the state’s filing of a Section 126 Clean Air Act petition — continues to move along as quickly as possible.

The 126 Petition filed by the DEP in 2010 included evidence to show that damaging sulfur dioxide pollution produced by the GenOn power plant adversely impacts most of Warren County and sections of Sussex, Morris and Hunterdon counties, as well as at least three counties in Pennsylvania. 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.

GenOn’s power plant emitted more than 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide in 2009, which is more than all seven of New Jersey’s coal-fired power plants combined that year.

The DEP believes modern air pollution controls, including a scrubber, should be installed to substantially reduce the Portland plant’s emissions. Improved sulfur dioxide and particle control also would reduce other hazardous air pollutant emissions, including hydrochloric acid, lead and mercury.

In addition to the 126 Petition to limit air pollution from this plant, the state also has an ongoing legal action against GenOn to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, as well as sulfur dioxide, at the Portland facility.

Those emissions, in the form of nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter, are carried eastward by prevailing winds towards New Jersey, causing ozone smog pollution, visible haze and acid rain.

The EPA will accept written comments on the State’s 126 Petition until May 27.