Pennsylvania DEP revises proposal to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants



The state Department of Environmental Protection has revised a rule it proposed in April to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants that was widely panned by environmental groups and deemed “too lax” by federal environmental regulators.

The new proposed final rule, announced by the DEP Wednesday, requires the state’s more than two dozen power plants to install and operate Reasonably Available Control Technology to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

Critics said the April proposal would have allowed many of the power plants to operate without turning those controls on, and emit up to 40 percent more pollutants.

Implementation of the new proposal, along with previous regulations already in place, will reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants and other combustion units by 85 percent from 1990 levels, according to the DEP.

“When implemented, this plan will result in considerable reductions of ozone precursor emissions,” said Vince Brisini, DEP deputy secretary for waste, air, radiation and remediation.

Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, in a chemical reaction with sunlight, form ground-level ozone, the principal component of smog, which can cause or exacerbate asthma, and lead to heart attacks, reduced lung function, increased hospital stays, stroke and premature death.

Pennsylvania power plants emitted 130,683 tons of nitrogen oxides, or about 80 percent of all the NOx emitted in the state in 3012, according to DEP statistics.

Rob Altenburg, senior energy analyst for PennFuture, a state-wide environmental organization, said the revised rulemaking is better but still not up to par with similar rules enacted in New York, Maryland and Delaware to control power plant emissions.

“We’re happy to see that this proposal is more stringent than the prior proposal released by DEP,” Mr. Altenburg said. “It’s certainly more likely to be accepted by EPA. But there is room for improvement, as the standards in Pennsylvania will still be lower than neighboring states.”

According to the DEP, it received 134 comments on its April proposal from individuals, environmental organizations, industry, Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission, other states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA in its 20-page comment document and cover letter, strongly urged the DEP to tighten its RACT emission standards, revise an emissions averaging provision that allowed some power plants to make no emissions reductions, and bring Pennsylvania’s rule into line with tighter emissions standards in surrounding states.

EPA will not comment on Pennsylvania’s revised RACT rulemaking, said Roy Seneca, an EPA spokesman in the agency’s Philadelphia regional office. But the agency will review the revised rule when the state submits it as part of its revised State Implementation Plan.

Because it has yet to attain health-based federal air quality standards, Pennsylvania and other “non-attainment” states are required to submit new regulations to limit pollution emissions.

The new emissions reduction plan will be reviewed by the DEP’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee at its Friday meeting, where the department will ask the committee to approve the rule and send it to the state’s Environmental Quality Board for consideration.

The AQTAC meeting Friday is open to the public and will be held from 9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., in Room 105 of the Rachel Carson State Office Building, 400 Market St., Harrisburg.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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