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Draft Permit Would Cut Pollution

Allegheny County often violates federal standards for safe smog levels. (phillq23/Wikimedia Commons)
Allegheny County often violates federal standards for safe smog levels. (phillq23/Wikimedia Commons)
August 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH - A draft permit for the Cheswick coal-fired power plant in Allegheny County would require the plant to use pollution controls it installed years ago. The plant has had a full set of pollution controls since 2010, and controls for smog-forming nitrogen oxides, or NOx, since 2003. But it continues to be the largest source of NOx, sulfur dioxides and mercury pollution, and the second largest source of soot in the county. According to Tom Schuster, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, that indicates Cheswick rarely uses controls.

"It's finding, I think, that it's cheaper to buy allowances in a trading program to meet its NOx pollution obligations rather than reduce them at the source," he said.

The Allegheny County Health Department held a public hearing Monday evening on the draft permit that would require the plant to run its controls and limit pollution.

Schuster points out that under the current pollution permit, Allegheny County is often in violation of federal standards for safe smog levels.

"And we've had, already this year, about a dozen days in which smog levels in the Pittsburgh region were unhealthy for children and elderly folks and people with respiratory problems," he added.

The draft permit would also limit the output of soot, which has been linked to heart disease and respiratory ailments including lung cancer.

The County Health Department's proposed limits for NOx emissions are tighter than what the Department of Environmental Protection has proposed as a statewide baseline for all power plants. Schuster believes adopting those higher standards could have an impact in the rest of the state.

"Hopefully, that will set a new bar for analysis of what can be done to reduce NOx pollution at other plants going forward," he said.

If adopted, the new pollution limits could go into effect in about six months.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA