EDITORIAL: Brunner Island facing hurdles

York Dispatch
  • York-Harrisburg-Lebanon region consistently gets an "F" in air quality from the ALA.
  • Neighboring states seek to hold Brunner Island responsible for their poor air quality.
  • Talen Energy must stop exploiting regulatory loopholes and install controls to limit emissions.

With legal, environmental and market forces bearing down, it's time for Brunner Island's parent company, Talen Energy, to take significant steps toward a more environmentally friendly way of doing business.

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

The York-Harrisburg-Lebanon region consistently makes the American Lung Association’s list of regions with the poorest air quality. Out of 220 metropolitan areas, York-Harrisburg-Lebanon is currently ranked 64th for high ozone days, 19th for 24-hour particle pollution, and 12th for annual particle pollution.

Brunner Island is one of the major sources of air pollution, along with other industrial plants and the high volume of truck and other traffic flowing through the region.

The plant is at a critical crossroads. Its parent company, Talen Energy, announced this past week it will eliminate 131 jobs, including 42 at York Haven’s Brunner Island plant.

Layoffs coming at York Haven's Brunner Island

"The entire fossil fuel industry is facing truly unprecedented challenges including increasingly stringent environmental laws and regulations," Talen spokesman Todd Martin told the Dispatch.

Brunner Island currently burns coal exclusively, but it is nearing completion of a $100 million project to turn the plant into a co-fire plant, allowing it to burn natural gas, coal or both.

Time is of the essence. We have long advocated for upgrades to the plant that, while potentially costly, would lower the cost to Harrisburg-York-Lebanon residents in terms of their health sacrifices. When you can smell the emissions and feel them in your nose, throat and lungs, it is a cost that can’t be measured. That cost should fall on the power plant, not the residents who live near it.

Further, other states seek to hold Brunner Island legally responsible for contributing to their poor air quality.

On July 8, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that it had filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to find that Brunner Island significantly contributes to Delaware's unhealthy ozone concentrations, according to a departmental news release.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection filed a similar petition in early June, according to a separate news release.

States petition EPA to limit Brunner Island emissions

Both were filed under Section 126 of the federal Clean Air Act, which allows the EPA to issue emission limits on sources from one state causing significant pollution in another state.

The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, refers to these petitions as "Good Neighbor petitions."

Sierra Club spokesman Mark Kresowik 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.

"This shows that they're frustrated with the pace of that progress," Kresowik said.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection rule (RACT) limiting the amount of NOx plants can produce recently became official, 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 Sierra Club spokesman Tom Schuster.

We feel their pain — and we’re closer.

Despite what politicians may be promising in this wildly contentious election year, putting miners back to work by revitalizing Appalachia’s coal industry has been widely debunked by industry experts.

An Associated Press fact check aimed at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s contention that he would revive the coal industry and get miners back to work found U.S. coal production fell 10 percent last year. The Energy Department predicts it will drop 16 percent this year, the biggest one-year decline since 1958, the AP reported.

The decline is real and permanent. And this is why we believe it is time for Talen Energy, to make real and lasting investments to a cleaner facility. It won’t be easy — the company faces industry disruption and other business challenges. But when an industry is disrupted, it is critical that it moves swiftly and decisively to capture a new market — in this case cleaner energy.

Talen Energy to be acquired

The industry disruption is largely due to cleaner energy options. Nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables like wind and solar power now account for about one-third of the industry, with coal and natural gas each accounting for one-third, as well, according to the EPA.

It is against this backdrop that the steady drumbeat for healthier air quality continues to sound. It’s time for Talen Energy to stop exploiting regulatory loopholes and stop emitting excessive pollutants into the air over Pennsylvania and neighboring states.