Federal court: EPA must act on Brunner Island petition

David Weissman
York Dispatch
Brunner Island Power Plant, Wednesday, February 14, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

Connecticut has been trying for more than 18 months to get the Environmental Protection Agency to rule that Brunner Island Power Plant is significantly affecting its air quality, and a federal judge has now intervened.

U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton ruled Feb. 7 that the EPA must take final action on Connecticut's petition — initially filed in June 2016 — within 60 days.

The petition, filed on behalf of the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, asked the EPA to find that York Haven's Brunner Island significantly contributed to Connecticut's unhealthy ozone concentrations.

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

The EPA was supposed to rule on Connecticut's petition or hold a public hearing within 60 days, but the agency initially filed for a six-month extension, as allowed under the federal Clean Air Act.

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When that period passed with no action, Connecticut filed a lawsuit against the EPA in March 2017.

The EPA has since scheduled a public hearing Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C., to discuss its proposed action on the petition — which it has not yet issued.

An EPA spokeswoman declined via email to comment on the ruling.

Peak modeled 8-hour ozone impacts from Brunner Island power plant (represented by star).

Delaware filed a similar lawsuit against the EPA after the agency failed to respond to its petition from July 2016.

The Sierra Club, an environmental organization that joined the states' suits, refers to these petitions as "Good Neighbor petitions."

Tom Schuster, a Sierra Club spokesman, said the court's ruling sets an important precedent that the EPA can't just ignore states when they file these petitions.

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.

More:Connecticut sues EPA over Brunner Island

The Sierra Club might have already taken care of that schedule, though, after it announced Wednesday, Feb. 14, that it had reached a settlement with Brunner Island's owner, Talen Energy, to stop burning coal at the plant during ozone season — May through September — by 2023 and completely before 2029.

After decades of operating exclusively as a coal-fired plant, Brunner Island became a co-fire plant — allowing it to burn coal or natural gas — in 2017.

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