A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigative report claims that 16 coal-fired plants in Western Pennsylvania have been repeatedly charged with air pollution offenses, and in some instances received relatively minor fines, while in other instances have had little or no repercussions.
The EME Homer City Generation plant was rated as the second largest polluter in the state. In five years, fines assessed for emission infractions totaled $40,700.
The news is troubling in that it shows state and federal agencies are seemingly powerless to enforce existing laws to protect the health of the public, which are impacted by pollutants known to cause respiratory and heart disease, and lung cancer. In fact, the Post-Gazette investigation found higher incidences of off all such illnesses in 14 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, where air quality has been negatively impacted by coal plant emissions.
Since 2007, the EPA has cited Allegheny Energy for its Hatfield’s Ferry, Armstrong and Mitchell power plants; RRI for its Keystone and Shawville plants and EME Homer City Generation for its plant in Homer City.
The violations at the Homer City power plant have been going on for years. Recently, the EPA filed a notice of violation that the plant made equipment changes in the 1990’s that significantly increased its emissions. Now, according to the EPA’s Enforcement & Compliance History Online database, the plant is the second largest polluter in the state. Over the last five years, the company has paid a whopping total of fines in the amount of $40,700.
Critics say that with fines as tiny as being imposed on the plants, there’s little incentive for companies to take action to reduce poisonous emissions.
Scientific studies show that even at the levels permitted by regulating agencies, sulfur dioxide (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and other particles trigger illnesses which lead to 20,000 premature deaths annually throughout the U.S.
While the problem has persisted for years, information provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection shows that authorities have treaded easy on repeat offenders. Records show that settlements at seven plants amounted to $1.25 million, with a single $925,000 fine paid by the current and former owners of the Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, covering five consent orders and agreements dating back to 1998.
DEP secretary John Hanger said that he feels the level of enforcement by his department is appropriate, and varies absed on agency resources and priorities. “I think we’ve been pretty active litigating when we have a good case.” He said.
Perhaps so, although it’s difficult to agree when fines are so small and enforcement actions are so slow. Considering that all these plants take in hundreds of millions of dollars annually, a $40,000 fine to them is like getting a parking ticket.