NJDEP Rubberstamps B.L. England Air Permit: Approval Ignores Air Quality & Carbon Impact For South Jersey

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Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Today, in a late afternoon e-mail, the NJDEP announced that it was ignoring detailed public comment and opposition to repowering the B.L. England power plant as full-time gas facility, by approving the air quality permit. The permit will receive a 45-day pro-forma review process by USEPA, but the state has effectively sign off on the repowering of B.L. England.

Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey, released the following statement after learning of the decision:

“NJDEP’s rubberstamp decision on B.L. England is another nail in the coffin of the Christie Administration’s legacy of carbon pollution denialism. This power plant is a trifecta of dirty energy – it will worsen global warming, it’s the rationale for the massive Pinelands pipeline and it will worsen air pollution. B.L. England is an artifact of the Eisenhower era, and it should have been retired a decade ago. Instead, the Christie Administration NJDEP is doubling down on their love affair with the gas industry and will create the largest global warming polluter in South Jersey – in a flood plain no less.

The worse part of the $400 million B.L. England repowering proposal is the attempt to ram a gas powerline through the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands. New Jersey has already gone ga-ga over gas, and doubled down on gas plants with 4 gas power plants in the works across the state (West Deptford, Newark, Woodbridge, Sewaren). These plants will likely bring more than 3,000 new MW onto the grid, which is significantly more than the 600 MW which will be lost with the retirement of Oyster Creek.

A repowered B.L. England power plant is the pot of gas at the end of the Pinelands pipeline rainbow. B.L. England should not be allowed to stagger back to life, and the Christie Administration just extended the life of an Eisenhower era fossil fuel dinosaur.”

Climate Denial: The air permit approval by NJDEP to repower B.L. England entirely ignores the precedent of the Global Warming Response Act, which requires an 80% reduction in carbon pollution by 2050. It also ignores the NJDEP’s own ruling in 2004 to regulate carbon pollution as an air pollutant, and the NJDEP permit won’t require any pollution controls for carbon pollution and completely ignores the lifecycle carbon emissions of natural gas, which are significant, and can entirely erase gas’ supposed cleaner moniker. New Jersey law requires the best available technology for pollution control. Even a repowered B.L. England is hardly state of the art.

Repowering B.L. England will make it even harder for New Jersey to meet EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which requires a decrease in carbon emissions by a quarter between now and 2030 from the state’s fossil fuel power plants.

More than a decade ago, EPA and NJDEP found that B.L. England’s air pollution violated the Clean Air Act, as a peaker power plant. Because of unending deadline extensions, a coal-fired power plant has now become a host creature for the gas industry to repower B.L. England as a baseload power plant, violate the intent of the Pinelands Commission by routing South Jersey’s gas line through the heart of the Pinelands and even allow the future potential for LNG gas export to foreign shores.

The Repowering Canard: Increased Emissions:

The approved permit doesn’t acknowledge the distinction between emissions from a part-time (or peaker) plant and a facility that is constantly in use. The current facility only operates during peak seasons, but when it is repowered it will operate year round, adding to the total emissions.

According to the draft permit, allowable carbon equivalent emissions –greenhouse gases — would total 1.6 million tons a year. These emissions alone could make B.L. England the 4th most polluting power plant in the state for global warming pollution. B.L. England would also release 129,000 pounds of lead per year.

B.L. England is exploiting a regulatory loophole by repowering the facility, instead of building a new power plant, with the most up-to-date emission technology. The air permit would increase the plant’s operation to 365 days a year and increase methane pollution, which is 70 times a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.

The air quality in South Jersey for ozone (i.e. smog) recently received a F grade from the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report for Atlantic and Cumberland Counties (data wasn’t available for Cape May County). However, 6,400 adults and 1,600 children suffer from asthma in the county, and in Atlantic, 17,600 adults and 5,700 children suffer from asthma. A full-time repowered power plant will negatively impact air pollution across the region, but especially for these vulnerable populations, especially in Atlantic City.

Oversupply/Lack of Need: Even more egregious is that the incentives established by FERC to avoid energy price spikes sparked these revisions – and those same incentives exposed an overreliance on natural gas as a fuel source. This concern is echoed by the recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists which documented the overreliance on natural gas power plants, and analyzed 16 states, including New Jersey, as being oversupplied with natural gas.

“History will harshly judge the Christie Administration’s reckless regard for climate change impacts and coastal flooding, and the rubberstamp approval for B.L. England will stand as an outright denial of climate science and need for the electric grid,” concluded O’Malley.