December 18, 2020

Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Sulfur Dioxide Pollution in Indiana County

Friday, December 18, 2020

Jared Stonesifer 

Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Sulfur Dioxide Pollution in Indiana County
EPA-approved state plan would allow dangerous short-term spikes of pollution from nearby coal-fired power plants 

INDIANA, PA - Today, the Sierra Club, PennFuture, and the Clean Air Council filed suit under the Clean Air Act to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Pennsylvania’s inadequate plan to address unhealthy air quality under the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide (SO2) limits. 

The EPA estimates that implementing the NAAQS for SO2 would annually prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks. That the EPA has approved a plan that does not meet its own standards poses serious health risks for residents in Indiana and Armstrong counties and is the subject of the suit. 

"Even short-term exposure for as little as five minutes to sulfur dioxide has negative health impacts," said Zachary Fabish, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club. "That's why it's so critical that the state’s plan be improved. As it stands, it simply does not meet the air quality standard or adequately protect public health." 

"The residents of Indiana and Armstrong counties are entitled to the protections of the same air quality standards guaranteed by the Clean Air Act as the rest of the country,” said Abigail M. Jones, Vice President of Legal and Policy for PennFuture. “The state’s plan fails to meet those standards and endangers the health of these communities. PennFuture will continue to fight to protect our air quality so that all Pennsylvanians can live healthy lives."

In 2013, the EPA designated the “Indiana County nonattainment area” under the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS – an area that includes all of Indiana County and a portion of the adjoining Armstrong County, where collectively more than 100,000 people live. Four coal-burning power plants generate the vast majority of the SO2 pollution in this area: the Keystone Plant, the Conemaugh Generation Station, the Homer City Station, and the Seward Generation Station.     

In 2018, the EPA proposed to approve Pennsylvania's plan to bring Indiana County into attainment. However, the plan relies on long-term emission limits for Keystone and Seward to meet the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS, which ensures that short-term spikes of SO2 pollution will continue. Additionally, as demonstrated by emissions modeling submitted by the Sierra Club, the new emission limits set for Seward and Conemaugh still fail to meet the NAAQS. The EPA approved the plan in October.

"Shortchanging public health to go easy on Big Coal is not acceptable," said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. "Our government must uphold the people's right to breathe clean air."