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01-17-04: Strict environmental standards threaten coal power plant


ST. MARYS — City officials remain hopeful they will be able to negotiate their way out of stricter environmental standards regarding emissions from its coal-fired power plant.
Adhering to the stricter standards would threaten the future of the facility, which produces 20-25 percent of the city’s electricity.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials are still reviewing a request by St. Marys and several other Ohio communities to create a new subcategory that would exempt small, municipal-owned power plants from some of the new standards, only recently implemented as part of the far-reaching 1990 Clean Air Act. The more stringent limits on mercury, hydrogen chloride and suspended particles are called Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards. The new limits on some pollutants would not make it cost-effective to retrofit small power plants to comply with the new standards.
St. Marys officials have been watching the situation closely because closure of the local plant would radically change the city’s power portfolio.
City council member Bill Slemmons, who chairs the electric committee, told council members last month that hope remains that EPA officials will create the new subcategory to include small municipal plants. The city, for its part of the deal, would meet new lower limits on suspended particulates in exchange for not being held to more stringent standards on mercury and hydrogen chloride emissions.
St. Marys has joined with the towns of Shelby, Dover, Orrville and Painesville, along with American Municipal Power of Ohio (AMP-Ohio), in the lobby effort. The group has hired a law firm and an environmental law consultant to head up the fight. The group also has done testing and gathered other evidence to support their claims that holding small power plants to stricter pollution standards makes little difference in air quality. The cities also argue that complying with stricter standards would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
But even if the AMP-Ohio cities prevail in their argument that small electric generators should not be held to stricter standards, St. Marys still would be on the borderline for the suspended particulate limits it would accept.
The EPA plans to implement a limit of 0.07 pounds per million BTUs. Early in negotiations on the new standards, the city had pushed for a limit of 0.154 pounds per million BTUs, but now apparently stands ready to meet the lower limit, even though the last test yielded a result of 0.08, just above the proposed EPA limit.
“The EPA envisions 0.07 and we have in the past been able to operate normally and meet that requirement,” Safety-Service Director Mike Weadock said. “We believe we can consistently meet those requirements.”
Weadock said he expects a final decision from the EPA within the next few months. A ruling against the AMP-Ohio cities likely would jeopardize the St. Marys power plant’s future.
Apparently there is no consensus among EPA officials who will decide if small power plants run by local governments will get their own designation.
In his recent state of the city address, Mayor Greg Freewalt said some EPA officials view the cities’ desire to be exempt from the new mercury and hydrogen chloride emissions regulations to be “unobtainable.” Other EPA officials, Freewalt wrote, reason that if small municipal power plants are part of the new category, generators run by hospitals, prisons, universities and the military should be part of the same class.


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