Court upholds action limiting Portland coal plant's emissions

The owners of the coal-fired Portland plant on the Delaware River north of Easton have already announced that the plant is closing.

But a court decision today that reaffirms the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's role in limiting air pollution from the facility is nonetheless being hailed as signficant by the environmental community.

Even if it doesn't have any immediate impact on the Portland plant, "it was an important win for EPA and will have more significance for other areas," said Kim Taplitzky, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, which was one of the groups that intervened in the case, along with the Clean Air Council and Greenpeace.

Portland, owned by NRG, was targeted by the state of New Jersey because, according to state officials,its emissions of sulfur dioxide were blowing eastward and causing several New Jersey counties to fail to meet air quality standards.

New Jersey and another downwind state, Connecticut, sued. As a result of the settlement of that suit, officials announced that the plant would stop using coal six months earlier than planned -- by June 1, 2014.

Meanwhile,New Jersey also filed what's called a "Good Neighbor Petition" with the EPA. Formally known as a Section 126 petition under the Clean Air Act, it's a way for one state to ask that a facility in another state be required to limit pollution.

The EPA granted that petition, and directed the plant to reduce its sulfur dioxide emissions by more than  80 percent. Industry challenged the decision. Today, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the  EPA action.

“Children and families across the country deserve clean air and a safe and healthy environment. Today’s ruling affirms that the Environmental Protection Agency serves as an important champion in the fight to ensure we can all breathe a little easier. Despite industry interference the EPA has proven to be an ally to every community that cares about the quality of their air,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in a press release today about the court's action.

The Sierra Club said the ruling was "a hopeful sign" for the town of Eliot, Maine, which  recently voted in favor of filing a similar petition asking the EPA to investigate pollution from  an upwind  coal-fired power plant in New Hampshire.

“This is great news for the people of Eliot who hope the Environmental Protection Agency will similarly stand up for our kids’ and families’ health when we file our own Good Neighbor Petition,” said Kimberly Richards, a resident of Eliot who helped lead the campaign to file the petition, in the Sierra Club press release. “We are even more hopeful that soon we, too, will have relief from the the dangerous air pollution that crosses into our town from an out-of-state coal plant.”