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Connecticut sues EPA over Brunner Island

David Weissman
505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Connecticut filed suit against the EPA for failing to address its petition about Brunner Island.
  • The state is not meeting federal air quality standards and alleges Brunner Island is significant cause.
  • If EPA finds Brunner Island in violation, the power plant must shut down or comply within 3 years.

Connecticut isn't meeting federal air quality standards, and it wants the Environmental Protection Agency to conclude that a York Haven power plant is a significant source of those issues.

Brunner Island photographed from helicopter Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015.  John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

The state filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the EPA and its administrator, Scott Pruitt, for failing to address its petition sent in June regarding Brunner Island Power Plant.

The petition was filed on behalf of the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to find that Brunner Island significantly contributed to Connecticut's unhealthy ozone concentrations. Delaware filed a similar petition in July.

The EPA was required to hold a public hearing or act on the petition within 60 days but failed to do so, according to the lawsuit.

The EPA does not comment on pending litigation, according to an agency spokesperson.

Connecticut's ozone exceeded eight-hour maximums imposed by federal law 22 times in 2015 and 31 times in 2016, according to state records.

DEEP spokesman Ric Pirolli said the state's ozone levels measure at the highest level in the northeast, and modeling shows Brunner Island contributed more than 1 percent to the state's readings.

Layoffs coming at York Haven's Brunner Island

The lawsuit states that Connecticut has enacted stringent pollution controls at a significant expense, but it remains out of compliance with 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and projects well above 2015 standards set under the federal Clean Air Act.

The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, refers to the petitions filed by Connecticut and Delaware as "Good Neighbor petitions."

Sierra Club spokesman Mark Kresowik has said air quality models show that Brunner Island's coal-fired plants heavily contribute to other states' air quality issues, and those states have tried for years to resolve those issues.

If the EPA finds that Brunner Island is in violation of the Clean Air Act, it must cease operations within three months or be subject to an EPA-imposed incremental schedule to come into compliance no later than three years after the finding, according to the lawsuit.

Co-fire: Brunner Island, owned by Talen Energy, was recently converted from a coal-fired plant to a co-fire plant — allowing it to burn coal, natural gas or both.

Todd Martin, a Talen spokesman, wrote in an email that the co-fire capability began this year, but he declined to provide a date, citing competitive reasons.

"For competitive reasons, Talen Energy does not discuss fuel sourcing or utilization," Martin wrote.

Martin added that the company would not comment on pending litigation, "especially when the company is not a party to the matter."

Talen Energy to be acquired

Pirolli said he realizes that burning natural gas would reduce the negative impact Brunner Island has on Connecticut.

However, the plant could still burn coal during high ozone season — May 1 through Sept. 30 — and Connecticut is looking for the EPA to impose federal requirements against that practice, Pirolli said.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection rule limiting the amount of nitrogen oxide plants can produce was enacted last year, but Sierra Club officials have noted that the rule includes a loophole that doesn't hold Brunner Island accountable.

The rule only applies to plants that already have nitrogen oxide controls in place, meaning Brunner Island can continue to emit more NOx pollution than the new rule allows, according to the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club officials have advocated for Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection to close that loophole, which would likely force Brunner Island to install controls or switch to natural gas entirely.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.