Sierra Club Bashes Corbett’s DEP Plan (Updated)

Tom-Corbett-upsetOn Saturday Governor Tom Corbett’s Department of Environmental Protection will release a tentative plan to reduce the amount of smog pollution produced by large coal plants. However, the Sierra Club is not impressed with the Governor’s efforts.

“Governor Corbett is clearly unconcerned with protecting the health of millions of Pennsylvanians breathing unhealthy air,” said Tom Schuster, Senior Pennsylvania Campaign Representative of the Sierra Club. “There’s an easy and affordable solution to cut dangerous pollution, but Governor Corbett has ignored it, choosing instead to give the largest polluters a free pass to poison the air we breathe.”

The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization, claims that Corbett’s proposal is “weak” and will inevitably fall short of producing any legitimate cuts to the amount of dangerous smog produced by the coal burning process.

“The proposed pollution limits are actually higher than the current rates of pollution at many plants – as much as four times higher in some cases,” said Kim Teplitzky, Deputy Press Secretary for the Sierra Club. “Failing to require coal plants to use the pollution controls they already have, puts a significantly more expensive burden on other industries that will have to install and operate new controls.”

As Governor, the Sierra Club claims that Corbett is responsible for curbing smog emissions in the state, most pressingly in areas designated as nonattainment under the Clean Air Act — meaning that pollution has caused the air quality to dip below national standards. Seventeen counties in Pennsylvania fall under that category, with most of them located in the southwestern and southeastern portions of the state.

“It’s commonsense to make coal plants use the pollution-cutting technology they already have, yet Governor Corbett’s plan fails to do so,” said Joanne Kilgour, Pennsylvania Chapter Director of the Sierra Club. “Cutting pollution from coal plants is an easy fix that will protect our kids’ lungs, prevent frightening and expensive hospital visits and save lives.”

But Governor Corbett’s administration says that the Sierra Club has been uncooperative in developing this plan.

“Despite offers from us to discuss important environmental issues such as the one below, Sierra Club would rather engage in what is obviously a naked political attack at the governor. In doing so, they demonstrate their complete ignorance on this topic, and substitute it with classless personal attacks,” Deputy Chief of Staff & Energy Executive Patrick Henderson told PoliticsPA. “If the Sierra Club truly cared about improving air quality, they would actually engage in rational and intelligent discussion, not engage in baseless, partisan political attacks from the safety of their keyboards.  They would also acknowledge that, across the board, air emissions are significantly down over the past few years and air quality is significantly better today than a few short years ago.”

“It is also worth noting that, in their hurried effort to attack Gov. Corbett, the Sierra Club is actually maligning the integrity and dedication of DEP’s professional air quality experts who crafted the recent white paper on reducing carbon emissions – and likewise attacking these employees concern with protecting the health of millions of Pennsylvanians,” Henderson continued. “The vast majority of these experts are the same dedicated personnel that worked under the prior Administration, including when Ms. McGinty and Mr. Hanger served as Secretary.”

Update: Sierra Club claims that the Corbett administration has not responded to meeting requests.

“Primarily, contrary to the Corbett admin claims, we have requested meetings several times and submitted extensive comments on the process. All of our meeting requests have been denied, ignored or dismissed for a later date that no one will confirm,” Kim Teplitzky of Sierra Club told PoliticsPA. “Our meeting requests are all documented.”

The DEP even provided PoliticsPA with details of the plan, critiquing some of Sierra Club’s claims.

  1. What is the purpose of the plan?

PA DEP’s proposed rulemaking establishes additional Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) requirements for existing major stationary sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as required under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). NOX and VOC emissions are the precursors for the formation of ground level ozone (smog). Ground-level ozone is formed by a chemical reaction between VOCs and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight.

This re-evaluation of RACT is necessary because EPA revised the ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards in 1997 and 2008. Compliance with RACT is required statewide in Pennsylvania because the entire Commonwealth is included in the Ozone Transport Region established under CAA.

The proposed regulation would apply Statewide to the owner and operator of a major NOx emitting facility or a major VOC emitting facility, or both, that was in existence on or before July 20, 2012. RACT is defined as: “the lowest emission limitation that a particular source is capable of meeting by the application of control technology that is reasonably available considering technological and economic feasibility.”

  1. Are the new rules more restrictive than previous rules for power plants?

The proposed RACT II NOx emission rates are lower than the current RACT allowable emission rates.

  1. Critics say the proposed control levels won’t require plants to use their already existing smog control devices.

DEP will consider all positions during the public participation process and is also willing to meet with interested parties to discuss their concerns with the proposal. Any changes to the proposed rulemaking will be discussed with advisory committees including the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee prior to submitting the final rulemaking for consideration by the Board.

Significant collateral NOx emission reductions will be realized. As proposed, certain EGU owners and operators will need to optimize their current operations to reduce their allowable NOx emissions in order to comply with a 30-day rolling average NOx limit.

Additional information on the proposal’s timeline:

  • The Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee concurred with the DEP’s recommendation to present the proposal to the Board for consideration on February 14, 2013.

  • The Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) Policy and Regulatory Oversight Committee reviewed the proposal on February 6, 2013. Based on the CAC committee’s recommendation, the full council concurred with DEP’s recommendation to present the proposal to the EQB for consideration.

  • The proposal rulemaking was presented to the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee on July 24, 2013. The committee concurred with the DEP’s recommendation to present the proposal to the EQB.

According to the Sierra Club’s research, the portions of Pennsylvania most affected by the coal industry also suffer from the highest rate of asthma related hospitalizations.

“Asthma is the most common chronic health condition among children and the third most common reason for hospitalization,” said Dr. Esther K. Chung, Professor of Pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and Nemours. “I see many children with asthma who are unable to play sports or participate in physical activity, and some suffer so severely that they cannot speak and require intensive care at a hospital. Smog contributes to and exacerbates these problems.”

Going forward, this could very well be an issue that one of the four Democratic candidates running for governor will use against Governor Corbett to help their campaigns — especially former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty. Her latest ad touts her experience as a “job-creating environmentalist,” and she has been adamant in her campaign about highlighting the Governor’s shortcomings.

5 Responses

  1. Between Reading and Allentown to the north and Philadelphia and Chester to the South, there are at least 5 coal fired power plants in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

  2. The counties with the most pollution are in Souteast and Southwest PA. How many Coal fired plants are in Southeast PA? No doubt the pollution there is caused by something else.

  3. I’m shocked the Sierra Club is critical of Tom Corbett. I’ll bet he was really counting on their endorsement.

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