Environmental groups to sue over emissions from Homer City plant

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Citing unhealthy concentrations of sulfur dioxide emissions from the Homer City coal-fired power plant in Indiana County, a coalition of five environmental groups filed notice Monday that it will sue California-based Edison International, which operates the 43-year-old facility.

The groups also released a Sierra Club report that calls into question whether the $700 million in pollution controls that Edison International announced last month for the plant will reduce emissions enough to meet federal health-based limits. It called on the company to instead invest in renewable wind and solar energy production facilities in central Pennsylvania.

According to the report, the 1,884-megawatt power plant -- one of the biggest in the nation -- released more sulfur dioxide than any other plant in the U.S. last year and enough to violate federal air pollution standards and its state operating permit.

"The report's modeling of emissions shows that in ... three years, from 2008 thorough 2010, it was violating its state permit and causing ambient pollution concentrations to be above the health-based standards," said Zack Fabish, an attorney with the Sierra Club. He noted that the power plant wasn't cited for violating the standards because of the lack of state monitors downwind from the plant to measure the pollution.

The report said emissions of sulfur dioxide, a pollutant linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease and asthma attacks, are in some places more than twice the federal health-based limit, and called on the state Department of Environmental Protection to "step in and tighten up Homer City's permit to protect the public's health."

Mr. Fabish said the power plant owners have proposed looser monthly emissions standards in their application to the DEP for a new operating permit.

Katy Gresh, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the department is reviewing the notice letter, but based on information it has, "we do not see a violation at this time."

Charley Parnell, a spokesman for Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International, said the company hasn't seen the report and can't comment on its findings or on issues that could be part of any potential litigation. But he said the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign and suggestions the company abandon its coal-fired power production are "dangerous and threaten reliable power generation."

He said the company has submitted new permit proposals that reflect the installation of new pollution control equipment at the power plant, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, and would like to start construction work in April and finish in 2014. The company said last month the controls would reduce emissions of sulfur by 84 percent, mercury by 90 percent and soot by 57 percent. A third unit already operates using controls.

The power plant is a "base load" facility that generates electricity for 2 million homes and employs 265.

The 60-day notice of intent to sue is required by the U.S. Clean Air Act prior to the filing of a lawsuit in federal court and was delivered to the power plant owners Monday.

In addition to the Sierra Club, groups that joined the notice and are calling for the closure of the power plant are Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Interfaith Power & Light, and the Coalition for a Healthy County, an Indiana County group.

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


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