2010 Jan. 29: MA Salem: Group to file suit against (coal & oil burning) power plant

By Lisa Guerriero/ salem@cnc.com
Posted Jan 28, 2010 @ 03:09 PM
Salem —
A longtime opponent of Salem Harbor Station announced plans this week to take the power plant’s owner to court.
Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) claims Dominion Energy New England violated the federal Clean Air Act at their coal- and oil-burning plant on Fort Avenue.
CLF claims Salem Harbor Station repeatedly exceeded the legal opacity limits — which the watchdog group described as a measurement of density of the gas stream that comes out of smokestacks.
According to the group, the particulate matter coming from the stacks is a hazard to the environment, as well as to the health of the residents in Salem and surrounding communities.
“They need to be paying for the damage they are inflicting on these communities,” CLF staff attorney Shanna Cleveland said of Dominion.
Dominion, which is based in Virginia, has offered limited response to news of the lawsuit.
“CLF is notifying everyone of its intent to file a lawsuit,” Dominion media relations director Jim Norvelle told the Salem Gazette in a statement. “Any response would come only if a suit is actually filed, and after we have had the opportunity to review it.”
The company did, however, address some of the larger accusations posed by CLF.
“Salem Harbor Power Station operates in compliance with federal and state environmental regulations, including those of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, which are among the most rigorous environmental regulations in the country,” Norvelle said.
The lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court in Boston at the end of March, 60 days from when they notified Dominion, CLF officials said.
Conservation Law Foundation looked at Salem Harbor Station’s quarterly reports and said they identified 286 times the plant violated opacity limits between 2005 and 2009.
The number could end up being larger by the time they file the lawsuit next month, said Karen Wood, director of communications for the Conservation Law Foundation, because the fourth-quarter 2009 data has not yet been available.
“In that 60-day period, we could add to the suit,” Wood said. “There could be some updating.”
CLF is also seeking fines against Dominion for any times when their monitors were offline and not recording opacity — unless Dominion can demonstrate through other recording methods that the federal limits weren’t violated during that time period.
“If [the monitors] weren’t operating, than any two-minute period they were off, we’re going to treat that as violation of the opacity requirements,” Cleveland said.
The environmental group is seeking more than $1 million in fines from the power plant operator. If the case is resolved in CLF’s favor, the money would go directly to the Environmental Protection Agency, Cleveland said, although CLF might be awarded attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit, although filed only by CLF, has the support of several North Shore anti-power plant groups, such as HealthLink and A Vision For Salem.
Jeff Barz-Snell said his group, Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE), hasn’t met since the lawsuit came out, but the members are aware of alleged opacity violations. Barz-Snell said he isn’t surprised by CLF’s findings because of the age and condition of the power plant and its equipment.
“Anything that protects the public health locally,” he said of the lawsuit, “how could you not be in favor of it?”
Barz-Snell sees the alleged violations as symptoms of a larger problem with the plant.
“It would suggest [Dominion’s owners] are not interested in making any long-term capital investments in the Salem facility,” he said.
He hopes the lawsuit will help compel Dominion to “level with the city of Salem about their long-term intentions.”

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