EDITORIAL: Brunner Island gets push from good neighbors

York Dispatch
  • Connecticut isn't meeting federal air quality standards.
  • That state wants the EPA to conclude that Brunner Island is a significant source of those issues.
  • Delaware has also filed a similar petition against Brunner Island, located in York Haven.

A good neighbor sometimes will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

That appears to be the case when it comes to the Brunner Island Power Plant in York Haven.

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

The facility is an air pollution problem. There’s little doubt about that.

Brunner Island, however, isn’t just a York County problem or a Pennsylvania problem. It’s a regional problem.

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

The state filed a lawsuit Tuesday, May 16 against the EPA and its administrator, Scott Pruitt, for failing to address its petition sent in June 2016 regarding Brunner Island.

Connecticut sues EPA over Brunner Island

The petition was filed on behalf of the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to find that Brunner Island significantly contributed to Connecticut's unhealthy ozone concentrations. Delaware filed a similar petition in July 2016.

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

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.

Will EPA act?: Will the EPA do anything about the problem? Well, that is uncertain. President Donald Trump put Pruitt in charge of the EPA despite the fact that he is no big supporter of the agency or the environment. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times.

Still, there’s always hope that the EPA and Pruitt will do the right thing.

If not, maybe the courts will make them do the right thing.

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.

A good start: 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.

That’s a good start. Burning natural gas would reduce the negative impact Brunner Island has on the region’s air quality.

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.

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.

That’s a loophole that needs to be closed.

The rule only applies to plants that already have nitrogen oxide (NOx) 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.

More must be done: In the best-case scenario, Brunner Island would voluntarily do the right thing to reduce its air pollution issues. Converting from a coal-fired plan to a co-fire plant is a good start. Switching to natural gas entirely would be even better.

Most folks don’t want Brunner Island to close. The loss of more good jobs would have a serious impact on the local economy. Talen Energy, the owner of Brunner Island, already announced the elimination of 42 positions at the plant last July.

Layoffs coming at York Haven's Brunner Island

At the same time, breathing polluted air could have a serious impact on the region’s overall health.

A reasonable compromise needs to reached.

Maybe a little push from a couple of good neighbors can bring that compromise closer to reality.