Connecticut to sue EPA over Brunner Island

David Weissman
  • Connecticut filed notice to sue EPA for failing to address petition on York Haven's Brunner Island.
  • Brunner Island emitted more smog-causing NOx than all Connecticut sources combined.

A York Haven power plant is at the center of an impending legal battle between the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Connecticut.

On behalf of its Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Connecticut filed a notice last week to sue the EPA for failing to address its petition sent last June regarding Brunner Island Power Plant.

Brunner Island

The petition was filed to find that 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.

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

Brunner Island emitted approximately 11,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide (NOx) in 2014, while the total NOx emissions from all Connecticut sources combined in 2014 was 8,800 tons, according to a DEEP news release.

Layoffs coming at York Haven's Brunner Island

Delaware filed a similar petition in July. The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, refers to these petitions 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.

Thomas Schuster, another spokesman for the Sierra Club, said in a statement that their organization is not surprised the EPA has failed to respond to Connecticut's petition.

The White House's current budget proposal includes cutting the EPA's staff by one-fifth and eliminating dozens of programs, according to a Washington Post report.

Brunner Island, owned by Talen Energy, is a coal-fired plant that was in the process of being converted to a co-fire plant, allowing it to burn coal, natural gas or both.

Talen officials did not respond to requests for comment on whether that conversion has been completed, but they had previously said it was expected to be done in early 2017.

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 NOx 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 NOx controls in place, meaning Brunner Island can continue to emit more NOx pollution than the new rule allows, according to Schuster.

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

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.