EPA Grants Clean Air Act Petition to Improve Air Quality in New Jersey

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a petition submitted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to limit sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant that are adversely impacting air quality in Warren, Sussex, Morris and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. This is the first single-source petition the agency has granted and it will require the Portland Generating Station in Northampton County, Pa., to significantly cut its SO2 emissions within three years, with a portion of those cuts happening by the end of the first year. Carried across state lines by wind and weather, SO2 can aggravate asthma and cause other respiratory problems. SO2 emissions can also react in the air and contribute to harmful levels of particle pollution, which is linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths.

"As someone who lived and worked in New Jersey, I know that communities have struggled for years with pollution crossing state lines, fouling the air they breathe and threatening their health. The Cross State rule EPA finalized this year and today’s action are two important steps designed to protect communities facing these exact challenges," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "In granting today’s petition, we’re taking a common-sense approach that gives the facility flexibility to find the most cost-effective methods for cutting pollution and for helping communities in New Jersey meet the Clean Air Act standards for sulfur dioxide."

The final rule provides the Portland plant with the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective strategy for meeting these limits, including installing proven and widely available pollution control technologies. The two units covered under this rule are large sources of SO2 emissions in the region, are about 50 years old and are currently among the 44 percent of coal-fired units in the country that do not have advanced pollution controls, such as scrubbers or catalysts, installed to limit emissions.

Actions taken to meet these limits are similar to those that the facility would need consider taking to meet the recently finalized Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the upcoming Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. This common-sense and coordinated approach supports the development of strategies that reduce all pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, particle pollution, ozone and others; minimize costs; and maximize public health protection.

EPA conducted air quality modeling analyses to evaluate SO2 levels in New Jersey. These analyses show that the level of SO2 in the air is exceeding the agency’s 1-hour national air quality standard and that the Portland plant is the main source of emissions. Monitoring data showing SO2 concentrations in Warren County exceeding the level of the 1-hour SO2 standard, support the agency’s modeling results.

Under the Clean Air Act, when a facility’s emissions impact air quality in another state, the affected state can petition EPA and request that the facility be required to reduce its impact. If EPA finds that the emissions do contribute to an air quality problem, the agency must set emissions limits that will eliminate this contribution. In a September 2010 petition, New Jersey asked EPA to find that emissions from the Portland power plant are impacting the state’s air quality and to require the facility to reduce its SO2 emissions. EPA proposed to grant the petition in March 2011.