New Jersey Forces Pennsylvania Power Plant to Clean Up its Act

In filing with federal EPA, state pushes for PA plant to dramatically reduce dangerous emissions

Having finally made progress in a long-running effort to reduce pollution from a Pennsylvania power plant accused of fouling New Jersey’s air, environmental officials say they plan to press for lower emissions from other plants in the Keystone State.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week 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, causing longstanding public health concerns for residents living in that region, according to Department of Environmental (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin.

Martin told the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee that the administration will press efforts to reduce pollution from other coal-powered plants in Pennsylvania, which he said spew smog-forming chemicals that drift into New Jersey. Those pollutants have long been blamed by New Jersey officials for its failure to achieve federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in creating smog.

Three-Year Reduction

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 three years, 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.”

Environmentalists also welcomed the decision by EPA.

“It is important for the EPA to force the cleanup of these coal plants in Pennsylvania that pollute New Jersey’s air. This is an important step forward in allowing the residents of New Jersey to breathe easier,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Section 126 Filing

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 affects 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 condiitons, including asthma and respiratory failure, such 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 in 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 emissions, including hydrochloric acid, lead and mercury.

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

Those emissions, coupled with fine particulate matter, are carried eastward by prevailing winds toward New Jersey, causing ozone smog, visible haze and acid rain.

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