• Home

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beaver County Coal Plant fined $25,000 for latest Soot Incident - WHERE IS THE JUSTICE??

FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, Beaver County was fined $25,000 for releasing soot that ended up covering more than two dozen properties this past June. The June incident is the second time within twelve months that FirstEnergy's plant has fined by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. The fine is the maximum allowed by our state's Air Pollution Control Act.

There are two major things wrong here. First, this plant was ranked as the 17th worst polluting plant in the United States, and it is one of the major reasons we here in Southwestern PA rank as one of worst MSAs for air particulate pollution. So why is this plant allowed to stay operational? People who work at the plant and the local small businesses who support their families obviously want the plant to stay open - even though they may not realize the detrimental effects their employer has on the health of their families. But why can't we start shutting down this dirty plants and begin putting those displaced employees to work for companies producing green energy?

The second major thing I find wrong with this incident is the lame penalty. The maximum penalty for this soot pollution offense is only $25,000 - this is not enough! The cost of reducing or eliminating this soot pollution for First Energy is probably in the millions of dollars. Since they do not fear getting shut down and they are fined a tiny amount - there is no incentive to clean up their act. We need to start replacing the dirty power and dirty jobs with green power and green jobs!

According to the Air Pollution Control Act website, the Act is in place in order to:

To provide for the better protection of the health, general welfare and property of the people of the Commonwealth by the control, abatement, reduction and prevention of the pollution of the air by smokes, dusts, fumes, gases, odors, mists, vapors, pollens and similar matter, or any combination thereof; imposing certain powers and duties on the Department of Environmental Resources, the Environmental Quality Board and the Environmental Hearing Board; establishing procedures for the protection of health and public safety during emergency conditions; creating a stationary air contamination source permit system; providing additional remedies for abating air pollution; reserving powers to local political subdivisions, and defining the relationship between this act and the ordinances, resolutions and regulations of counties, cities, boroughs, towns and townships; imposing penalties for violation of this act; and providing for the power to enjoin violations of this act; and conferring upon persons aggrieved certain rights and remedies. (Title amended Oct. 26, 1972, P.L.989, No.245)
Is it possible that this Act needs to be revamped in order to levy heavier fines on polluters such as FirstEnergy? It is time for our state congressman to step up and do something about these irresponsibile actions. It's time to shut down these dirty plants - or at least give them a deadline to get their acts together. I saw set a hard deadline and shut down the polluters who do not meet the minimum pollution control requirements. The state could create a green jobs training and placement program for the displaced workers.

To be fair to FirstEnergy, they reported that the plant's emissions scrubbing equipment had a malfunction, which caused the soot to be released into the air and onto the houses. If this is the case and they truly are trying to clean up their act - we'll see where the Shippingport plant stands when next year's dirty plants rankings are released.

(Note - as I sit here typing this post a commercial just aired claiming that coal is "securing our future" and that we have over two Saudi Arabia's of coal here in the US)


Rearden said...

I don't grok the connection between the stack rain event which released particulates (soot, as you say) from First Energy's Mansfield Plant and that same plant's ranking as 17th 'dirtiest' according to the Environmental Integrity Project report. Perhaps the only connecting issue is the word coal?

The Post-Gazette article describes the plant as 17th dirtiest (it's actually 16th, but facts are pliable) in the nation for total carbon dioxide emissions.
However, the Environmental Integrity report goes on to treat carbon dioxide on a second, and more realistic, dimension: lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt of energy produced, and the Mansfield plant doesn't even rank in the top fifty at all here. And, nowhere are particulates (soot) mentioned.

Scanning the remainder of the EIP report for First Energy/Mansfield's name in the SOX, NOX and mercury emissions ranking tables will bear no fruit and one can only assume that the plant is performing as efficiently as is technically possible there.

Being one of the largest plants in the nation is a sure way to be included in the total emission mass listing but a balanced reporting of all the facts would go a long way toward educating the public about energy decisions which need to be made for our future. We engineered and constructed large utility plants after World War II to meet expanding requirements and to achieve economies of scale which were not available to the smaller local energy operations of the 'forties and 'fifties. It follows that replacing 1,000 nasty, non-controllable single source point generators burning coal and trash on static grates with a single high technology combustor would offer a more prudent approach going forward. I think that we made the right decision at the time.

The $25,000 per diem maximum fine levied by the EPA was established decades ago and is applicable across all industries- even the ones who have accidentally released toxic chemicals and factory by-products into rivers and lakes. These fines have been levied against bread factories for discharging too much starch into the water systems. This levy is not specific to the power industry as you seem to allude. You are correct that the fine does reach high enough on the pain factor to be much of a deterrent to environmental inattention and should be reviewed.

Until someone comes forward with an economical and easily distributable model for an alternate electrical power generation system, or, until people stop signing up for electrical service and watching 'American Idol Rewind', coal will continue to be in your future and I will continue to be there mining it for you.

Rearden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Schultz said...


Your comments here and perspective from the coal industry are greatly appreciated. I agree with you that coal is not going away anytime soon, and since we do not have enough green power capacity to replace coal power, and won't for a very long time, I am in support of building more nuclear plants here in the US. It's not an ideal situation, but it is a tradeoff. Our nuclear plants have proven to be a safe and clean power source despite a few hick-ups like the three mile island incident.

Pennsylvania is responsible for an estimated 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is unacceptable and although I am not as knowledgeable on coal industry matters as an insider such as yourself I think I can go out on a limb and say that the coal plants here are the chief contributers to that statistic.

What are your suggestions for the future? Do you believe in the clean-coal hype?