TRIAL BEGINS IN NEW JERSEY CLEAN-AIR SUIT
AGAINST WESTERN PENNSYLANIA POWER COMPANY
(10/P95) TRENTON - A federal trial has begun in a lawsuit filed by New Jersey and four other states to force coal-fired power plants in western Pennsylvania to take steps to clean up emissions of pollutants that degrade air quality in downwind states, including New Jersey.
"Governor Christie and I are committed to improving the state's air quality, even when it means having to fight in federal court to hold power companies in other states accountable to the same high standards and pollution control technologies we require here in New Jersey," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.
"Air quality is a critical issue in New Jersey, and violations of the Clean Air Act that affect our air quality will not be tolerated," said Attorney General Paula T. Dow. "We are committed to working with DEP to protect our residents from potentially harmful contaminants emitted by out-of-state energy plants. We are equally committed to using litigation where necessary to hold companies that operate those plants in violation of federal law accountable."
The bench trial began this week in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh before Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster.
New Jersey is joined by Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania in a lawsuit seeking to require Greensburg, Pa.-based Allegheny Energy Inc. and its subsidiaries to install pollution-control equipment, as required by the federal Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania law, to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide at three power plants. Prevailing wind carries pollutants from these plants to the east, causing ozone smog pollution and acid rain in the five states.
"Air pollution does not adhere to state boundaries," Commissioner Martin said. "Even though Allegheny's power plants are hundreds of miles away, they affect New Jersey's ability to meet federal clean air standards. Our resolve to hold this company accountable to federal law is a strong example of our commitment to protecting New Jersey's air quality from out-of-state sources of pollution."
The three plants at issue in the litigation - the Armstrong, Hatfield's Ferry and Mitchell plants - consist of older, coal-fired generation units. The lawsuit asserts that Allegheny undertook many construction projects over the years to extend the operational lifespan of these plants without complying with federal standards requiring implementation of best available control technology standards or meeting the lowest achievable emission rate to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
An analysis of emissions prepared in conjunction with the lawsuit shows that three plants emit nearly 200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide annually.
Nitrogen oxide, in the presence of sunlight, reacts with other chemicals to form ozone smog, which contributes to health problems including chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, and increased vulnerability to respiratory conditions such as asthma. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions contribute to the formation of acid rain deposition. Acid rain inhibits the ability of fish to survive in ponds and lakes.
Both pollutants also contribute to excessive nutrient loading in coastal waters, affecting diversity of fish life, and leads to the creation of fine particles that can cause respiratory distress, cardiovascular disease and premature death in people.
New Jersey and the other states are seeking injunctive relief to require Allegheny to reduce its harmful emissions by installing state-of-the-art pollution controls at each of the three plants. The state is also seeking civil monetary penalties and an order for Allegheny to take appropriate actions for the harm done to public health and the environment.
The Allegheny subsidiaries named as defendants are Allegheny Energy Service Corporation, Allegheny Energy Supply Company LLC, Monongahela Power Company, The Potomac Edison Company, and West Penn Power Company.
Chief Judge Lancaster is currently holding the liability phase of the trial. This will be followed by a remedy phase.
Closer to New Jersey, Governor Christie and Commissioner Martin have called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to expedite action to reduce pollutants spewing from Portland Generating Station, coal-fired power plant operated by RRI Energy in Northampton County, Pa., directly across the Delaware River from Knowlton, Warren County.