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Seward Generating Station Applies to DEP for *Decreased* Sulfur Dioxide Emission Limits

Photo courtesy of Google Earth.

The Seward Generating station in Indiana County is purportedly the world’s largest waste-coal burning power plant, so when its operator recently applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a “re-evaluation” of its sulfur dioxide emissions, GASP decided to investigate to ensure such a “re-evaluation” does not result in an increase in permitted emissions.

After requesting and obtaining files from DEP relating to the application, we were pleased to find that this won’t be the case. 

In fact, Seward’s operator is requesting that DEP decrease the plant’s annual emission limits for sulfur dioxide from 13,308 tons per year to either 10,739  or 11,904 tons per year (the application documents that DEP provided to us contain both numbers) while still authorizing the plant to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  

The basis for the operator’s request is that there is less sulfur in the waste coal that the plant burns than originally thought; the plant’s actual annual emissions of sulfur dioxide have never approached the existing annual emission limit, which apparently was established when the plant began operating in 2004.  

Why might a plant operator ask to reduce emission limits? Here’s one possible explanation:  

“Title IV of the Clean Air Act establishes a ‘cap and trade’ system for sulfur dioxide emissions from electric generating units in which such units receive, and are able to sell, emissions credits for permitted sulfur dioxide emissions,” GASP senior staff attorney John Baillie explained.  “Presumably, if DEP grants the Seward plant’s application, the plant will generate, and be able to sell, its unused sulfur dioxide emission credits to other power plants.”

We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates in this blog as new developments occur.

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