Climate News

Connecticut court rules against the EPA, forcing them to act to clean up air pollution caused by an old Pennsylvania coal plant

The state of Connecticut scored one for the environment with a federal ruling that requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take steps to stop air pollution coming from a decades-old coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania that’s spilling over state borders, reported a Hartford Courant news article.

Concerns regarding air pollution from the Brunner Island Power Plant in York County, Pennsylvania prompted Connecticut to file a legal case in 2017. The state asked the EPA to clean up the site.

U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The EPA is expected to hold a public hearing on Connecticut’s petition within 30 days and arrive at a decision within 60 days.

“With this ruling, the court is requiring EPA to act, which is a welcome step forward toward addressing this source of air pollution in our state,” remarked George Jepsen, the Attorney General of Connecticut.

The Hartford Courant reported Jepsen saying the air quality in Connecticut remained low despite strict local laws. He attributes this to out-of-state sources of air pollution like the Brunner Island power plant (which is more than 200 miles southwest of Connecticut) that lay outside the state’s borders and authority.

“EPA has a responsibility to act on petitions before it, yet has failed to take the required action on Connecticut’s petition regarding Brunner Island. With this ruling, the court is requiring EPA to act, which is a welcome step forward toward addressing this source of air pollution in our state,” he said.

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The state was not alone when it filed the legal suit against the Brunner Island Power Plant, receiving support from the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

“This is a strong outcome that recognizes Connecticut’s interest in stopping interstate air pollution that affects public health,” commented Jack Looney, staff attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

He was in agreement with Mark Kresowik, Eastern Region Deputy Director of the Sierra Club.

“Today’s decision upholds the rule of law, protecting the health of the region and keeping communities safe from harmful pollution,” Kresowik said. (Related: California’s Central Valley food production found responsible for shocking amount of air pollution.)

A major source of nitrogen oxide pollution

Connecticut began its legal battles against air pollution from the Brunner Island facility in 2016. Its original suit requested the EPA to implement federal anti-pollution rules against the coal power plant.

Operated by Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy, the Brunner Island Power Plant began operations in 1961. A recent estimate placed its output of nitrogen oxide pollution at around 11,000 tons, reported The Hartford Courant.

According to Connecticut environmental experts, these emissions dwarfed the combined output of all sources of similar air pollution in the state.

In 2009, the previous operator of the Brunner Island facility installed scrubbers that vastly improved its emission quality. But the scrubbers only clean up sulfur dioxide, so the facility continues to belch nitrogen oxide.

The Sierra Club’s legal suit against the Brunner Island facility mentioned the lack of post-combustion controls for nitrogen oxides. It also cited the old power plant as one of the biggest air polluters in the northeastern U.S.

Nitrogen oxides are one of the leading contributors to toxic smog. Its ozone by-product can hinder the proper functions of the respiratory system and worsen asthma.

“Agency compliance more than two years after the filing of the petition is clearly at odds with period of time that Congress deemed appropriate for EPA review,” Judge Eginton observed in his ruling.

The federal court refused a request from EPA legal representatives to postpone the matter until the end of 2018.

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