EPA Rejects Connecticut’s Request for Limits on Pennsylvania Coal Plant

Published April 2, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition submitted by the government of Connecticut to have the agency place new restrictions on ozone emissions from a Pennsylvania-based coal-fired power plant.

At the center of the controversy is the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant located in York County, Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River. The power plant, about 175 miles southwest of Hartford, Connecticut’s capital, has been operating since 1961.

In June 2016, Connecticut officials filed a petition with EPA, arguing emissions from Brunner Island, transported northeast by prevailing winds, were threatening to put the state out of attainment with the 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA). If Connecticut failed to meet air quality standards under CAA, it might have to implement policies restricting economic development. The CAA gives EPA 60 days to respond to such petitions.

Under Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama’s EPA administrator, the agency failed to respond to the petition. In May 2017, three months after Donald Trump became president, Connecticut filed a lawsuit against EPA to force it to act on the request.

In early February 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asked the federal court to give EPA until the end of the year to respond to Connecticut’s petition. U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton denied Pruitt’s request on February 7, ordering EPA to deliver a decision on Connecticut’s petition within 60 days. The next day, EPA rejected Connecticut’s petition.

‘Good Neighbor’ Policy

Under CAA’s “good neighbor” provision, states are prohibited from emitting air pollution in amounts that will contribute significantly to downwind states failing to attain federal air quality standards. In denying Connecticut’s petition, EPA said in a statement the state had failed to show the Pennsylvania power plant was significantly contributing to Connecticut’s ozone levels.

Connecticut failed to “demonstrate that the source emits or would emit in violation of the good neighbor provision such that it will significantly contribute to nonattainment or interfere with the maintenance of the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in Connecticut,” EPA stated.

“[T]he Brunner Island facility does not currently emit nor is expected to emit pollution in violation of the good neighbor provision for the 2008 ozone NAAQS,” said EPA in its statement.

Governor Blames Trump

Instead of acknowledging Connecticut’s petition was filed when Obama was president and EPA failed to approve the petition under his watch, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy blamed the Trump administration solely for the failure of the petition.

“Once again, the Trump administration is putting the lives of Connecticut residents at risk,” Malloy said in a statement.

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says Malloy is attempting to blame Trump and the Pennsylvania plant for energy problems of Connecticut’s own making.

“By pointing the finger at the Trump administration and at an out-of-state coal-fired power plant, Gov. Malloy appears eager to deflect attention from his own state’s energy woes,” said Rucker. “Connecticut has the third highest electric rates in the country, with rates 67 percent higher than the national average.

“Part of the reason for this is Connecticut is a member of RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a group of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that are making themselves heavily reliant on renewable energy, primarily wind and solar,” Rucker said. “These sources are neither reliable nor affordable, and the people of Connecticut are paying dearly for the governor’s wholesale rejection of fossil fuels.”

Modifying Operations Anyway

Although EPA did not require the Brunner Island power plant to restrict its emissions further to meet CAA provisions, Talen Energy, which operates the facility, agreed to modify its operations in order to avoid a lawsuit threatened by the Sierra Club.

Talen and Sierra Club reached an agreement in mid-February under which the power plant will burn natural gas instead of coal during the peak ozone months of summer, beginning in 2023. Also under the agreement, Brunner will stop burning coal entirely by 2029, converting its operations to burn only natural gas.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.