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Pennsylvania DOC Agrees to Comply with Clean Air Act at Four Prisons

by David M. Reutter

A settlement agreement to remedy violations of the federal Clean Air Act at four Pennsylvania state prisons was announced on January 4, 2011. The settlement between the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice covers violations at boiler plants that generate power, heat and hot water at the facilities.

The settlement agreement involves State Correctional Institutions at Muncy, Rockview, Huntingdon and Laurel Highlands. The remedial actions required by the settlement are graduated to allow the PDOC to make changes at one prison at a time.

By December 31, 2010, the PDOC was to “install and commence continuous operations for a baghouse” for particulate matter at SCI Rockview. Like the other three prisons, Rockview burns coal to operate its boiler plants. Three of the facilities burn bituminous coal; Muncy is the only prison that burns anthracite coal.

A baghouse is “a device or facility in which particulates are removed from a stream of exhaust gases as the stream passes through various fabric bags before the stream is discharged to the atmosphere.” Rockview may not operate Units 1 or 2 of its boiler plant absent a baghouse. The settlement makes no mention of Unit 4, which was built in 1966 with its own exhaust stack. The other three units share a stack; Units 1 and 2 were constructed in 1933 and Unit 3 in 1950.

The requirements at Rockview permit burning only bituminous coal and set “specifications for fuel physical characteristics.” The PDOC must collect samples from each truckload of coal received at the prison and have it tested weekly. Reports on the samples must be sent to the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

SCI Muncy runs three coal-burning units (1, 2 and 3). The settlement required those units to cease operation by March 31, 2009. At that time, the prison began operating Unit 4, which burns gas and oil. Units 1 and 2 may be operated, but only one at a time, in standby mode on an emergency basis in the event of a malfunction. Unit 3 may not be operated in “any capacity” without required permits and the installation of emission control technologies.

SCI Laurel Highlands must cease operation of its three existing coal-fired units, remove those units, and surrender the permits for the three units no later than June 30, 2011. By that date the facility is to install and commence operation of three units that burn natural gas or landfill gas.

Finally, SCI Huntingdon must cease burning coal at its four units no later than June 30, 2012. The PDOC can “not restart these coal-fired units without prior written approval from EPA, which shall be within EPA’s sole discretion.” The PDOC has three options to operate the boiler plant at Huntingdon.

First, it may continue burning coal at the four units “after the installation of an electrostatic precipitator or a baghouse.” Another option is to convert the units to “natural gas-fired units” while “burning solely natural gas” rather than coal or fuel oil. The last option is to “remove and permanently retire” the units and replace them with approved units.

The settlement establishes requirements “for conducting stack tests to measure [particulate matter] emissions and visible emission opacity” at the prisons’ boiler plants. It also imposes a $300,000 civil penalty against the PDOC, which must submit semi-annual progress reports to the EPA. Finally, the settlement has stipulated penalties that range from $750 to $20,000 per day for violations of the terms of the agreement.

“Today’s settlement will improve the air quality in four Pennsylvania communities,” said Shawn M. Garvin, EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator. “It’s important that all sources of air emissions, including prisons, comply with environment regulations to ensure that the standards are met in nearby communities.”

The district court approved the consent decree on March 10, 2011. See: United States v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 4:10-cv-02672-CCC.

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Related legal case

United States v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania