Conservation Law Foundation Sues PSNH for Clean Air Act Violations at Merrimack Station

CLF’s Coal-Free New England Campaign Opens up New Front in New Hampshire

CONTACT:
Karen Wood:  (978) 857-5389 or
kwood@clf.org
Christophe G. Courchesne:  (603) 225-3060 x17 or
ccourchesne@clf.org
Melissa Hoffer: (617) 350-0990 x 710 or
mhoffer@clf.org

CONCORD, NH   July 21, 2011 – The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today filed a federal Clean Air Act citizen suit in New Hampshire federal district court against Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH), the owner of Merrimack Station, an aging coal-fired power plant in Bow, for the plant’s repeated failures to obtain required air permits. CLF’s citizen suit also cites numerous violations of Merrimack Station’s current permits and the resulting illegal emissions from the plant.

CLF’s complaint contends that the plant, which is more than a half-century old and is in the midst of a major, multi-faceted life extension project, never obtained required permits authorizing renovations to major components of Merrimack Station, including much of an electric-generating turbine, even though the changes increased pollution from the plant.  As predicted by PSNH’s own projections, the changes led to more emissions of pollutants, including smog-causing nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, or soot, which causes respiratory problems when inhaled and is linked to increased hospitalizations, lung damage in infants and children, and premature death.

Christophe Courchesne, staff attorney at CLF, said, “In the course of this project, PSNH has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act, putting the health of the public, especially children and senior citizens, at risk. PSNH is not above the law and CLF is committed to holding them accountable.” Courchesne continued, “With PSNH trumpeting the supposed ‘clean air’ benefits of the Northern Pass project with full-page ads in newspapers across New Hampshire, it is imperative to shine a light on PSNH’s coal plants, which easily cancel out the purported benefits of Northern Pass.”

Merrimack Station is one of New England’s most-polluting power plants.  In 2010, the 445-megawatt power plant emitted 3,414 tons of nitrogen oxide and 33,248 tons of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and causes an array of adverse respiratory effects, including asthma symptoms.  Emitting more than 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, Merrimack Station is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Hampshire. The facility releases more than 2 million pounds of toxic chemicals every year, including ammonia, lead and the potent neurotoxin mercury. PSNH is owned by Northeast Utilities, a publicly traded Fortune 500 company that operates through subsidiaries throughout New England.

PSNH currently has the highest energy rates in New Hampshire. Those rates are steadily climbing as commercial and industrial customers are finding lower cost power from other suppliers, leaving PSNH’s captive residential ratepayers footing the bill for the above market cost of PSNH’s old coal plants. The so-called “death spiral” being experienced by PSNH, where customers migrate to lower cost suppliers leaving fewer customers paying higher rates has been well documented and is the subject of a pending New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission proceeding.  CLF’s lawsuit underscores the fact that no matter how much money PSNH spends on this old coal-fired power plant, it cannot generate power cost-effectively or meet modern environmental standards.

Melissa Hoffer, vice president and director of CLF’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program, said, “While PSNH would like people to think that they are undertaking this renovation in good faith, the reality is that they are propping up this old plant to protect their own assets at the great expense of ratepayers, public health and the environment. Instead of transitioning to a cleaner and economic portfolio of energy sources, PSNH has embarked on a massive and costly effort to keep Merrimack Station online for decades to come and New Hampshire ratepayers will be forced to throw more and more of their good money after bad if this project moves forward.”

Hoffer continued, “The fact of the matter is that after spending millions of dollars to upgrade the plant, Merrimack Station is still unable to comply with the Clean Air Act.  This plant is well past its useful life. Merrimack Station and PSNH’s other aging and inefficient fossil-fuel plants don’t belong in New Hampshire’s energy future.”

PSNH has sixty days to answer CLF’s complaint.

Background on Coal-Free New England

CLF is working to make New England coal-free by 2020. For more than 20 years, CLF has held the region’s coal-fired power plants accountable for violations of clean air and water laws, while winning tougher regulations to protect the environment and public health. CLF filed the appeals of state permits that resulted in the 2011 shutdown of Somerset Station, in Somerset, Massachusetts, and was instrumental in the fight to shutter Salem Harbor Station in Salem, Massachusetts, which is now planned to shut down in 2014. With its tenacious legal advocacy, policy initiatives and regulatory expertise, CLF is applying pressure in all the right places to rid New England of old, dirty coal plants, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and make way for clean renewable energy to power our region.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide.  Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.