By TIMOTHY COX
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
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
“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.