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Group Sues To Stop Permit For New Natural Gas Plant In Washington County

Reid R. Frazier
StateImpact Pennsylvania

An environmental group is appealing an air permit for a proposed natural gas-fired power plant in southwest Pennsylvania. The group says the Department of Environmental Protection failed to follow clean air laws in the case of Robinson Power, which is proposing to build a plant near a waste coal pile in Washington County.

The project, which the company calls the “Beech Hollow” site, would produce 1,000 MW of electricity.

The DEP granted an air permit to the Burgettstown, Pa.-based company in 2017. This year, the company modified its design and was granted a new permit by DEP.

In June, the Clean Air Council appealed the new permit, citing a number of alleged deficiencies. Then in August, the company had a change of heart. It asked the DEP to forget the new design and go back to the old one. The DEP agreed and reinstated the old permit.

The problem is, the old permit became null and void when the DEP approved a new plan. At least that’s how Alex Bomstein sees it. Bomstein is an attorney with Clean Air Council, which is appealing the DEP’s decision to allow the old permit to be reinstated.

“The old plan approval, which it’s trying to revive here, is dead,” said Bomstein. “You can’t bring it back from the dead. And if you wanted to, you would have to go through a whole new permitting process, which would involve a review of all the details of the plan, approval and input from the community. And the community wasn’t given that opportunity.”

If the company were to seek a new permit, the DEP might have to take into account changes to pollution control technologies, Bomstein said. In addition, it would have to reexamine how the plant’s pollution would impact the surrounding community, which may be exposed to pollution from other new sources, like natural gas drilling and processing in the area.

“There’s been a huge amount of gas development in the area and including gas processing plants, pipelines and other dirty industrial sources,” he said. “When you add it all up, it’s just a huge burden for the community.”

DEP declined to comment. Robinson Power LLC, did not respond to requests for a comment.

In a letter dated Aug. 19 requesting the permit change, the company’s president, Raymond J. Bologna, wrote: “Robinson Power Company and the (DEP) agree that the original permit is still valid thru {sic} March 28, 2022.”

DEP correspondence indicates the company began pouring concrete foundations of the plant last year. In the 2000s, the company tried to build a power plant that would use waste coal at the site.

The appeal is before the state’s Environmental Hearing Board.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.

Reid R. Frazier covers energy for The Allegheny Front. His work has taken him as far away as Texas and Louisiana to report on the petrochemical industry and as close to home as Greene County, Pennsylvania to cover the shale gas boom. His award-winning work has also aired on NPR, Marketplace and other outlets. Reid is currently contributing to StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY covering the Commonwealth's energy economy. Email:
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