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York Co. coal plant blamed for pollution in Delaware, Connecticut

Written by Brett Sholtis, York Daily Record | Jul 15, 2016 9:58 AM
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Photo by York Daily Record file photo

Brunner Island Steam Electric Station in York Haven.

(York) -- Delaware and Connecticut are blaming Brunner Island for their bad air.

The coal-fired power plant in York Haven was the greatest source of carbon monoxide, mercury and particulate emissions in York County in 2014, the most recent year that Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection records were available.

The plant regularly makes the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center's list of the 100 most polluting power plants in the country, and the Sierra Club has said the plant is "the single largest source of dangerous smog-causing pollution in Southeastern Pennsylvania."

Now, Delaware and Connecticut officials are saying pollution from the plant is blowing into their states, keeping them from meeting their own clean air goals.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to acknowledge that Brunner Island "significantly contributes to unhealthy ozone concentrations in Delaware," according to a news release from the state agency.

The state is the second to petition the EPA to look into Brunner Island's emissions. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection filed a petition in June.

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Photo by Submitted by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

This modeling data, provided by Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shows projected dispersion of ozone impacts from Brunner Island Steam Generating Station, located in York Haven

The Delaware agency also filed a petition to make the area surrounding Delaware, which includes parts of Pennsylvania and other states, meet federal ozone limits. This petition seeks to cancel a one-year extension the EPA granted the region.

The agency said Brunner Island isn't fitted with modern emission-cutting devices, which have slashed emissions by more than 80 percent at other coal power plants, including Delaware's NRG Indian River Facility.

Talen Energy, which owns Brunner Island, has begun its own study to determine whether the power plant affects Connecticut and Delaware, company spokesman Todd Martin said.

If EPA finds that Brunner Island is adding pollution to Delaware or Connecticut, the agency can require Brunner Island to reduce its emissions within three years, EPA officials stated. Those cuts would come either by mandating that the plant installs emissions-reduction devices or by burning gas rather than coal.

That second option is already in the works, Martin said. Brunner Island is nearing completion of a $100 million redesign that allows the plant to burn natural gas as well as coal. Martin said the plant will begin to burn gas this fall, a step that would drastically reduce emissions.

Brunner Island's switch to gas could solve Delaware's pollution problem, said Ali Mirzakhalili, the air quality director at Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. However, the agency wants Talen Energy to promise that it won't burn coal.

Under the new, "co-fire" format, the plant will be able to burn coal, gas or both fuels at once, Martin said. Many factors will determine what fuel the plant burns from day-to-day, including air quality.

"We are committed to environmental stewardship at Talen Energy," Martin said.

This story is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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