Clearing the Air in Salem

Seth Kaplan

Big announcement yesterday:

In an ongoing effort to protect the environment and the public from the hazards of dirty coal-fired power plants, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today filed a federal suit against Dominion Energy of New England for repeatedly exceeding smokestack emissions limits at its Salem Harbor Station facility in Salem, Massachusetts.  The suit holds Dominion Energy accountable for willful and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Air Act’s “opacity” requirements. The Clean Air Act sets limits on opacity – a measure of the density of smokestack emissions – to minimize the amount of soot that is released into the air.  Soot, which contains harmful chemicals, metals and ash, has been linked to severe health and environmental problems.

The suit would hold Dominion responsible for paying millions of dollars in penalties retroactively for violations of the smokestack emissions limits. The violations – 317 in a five year period – are documented in Dominion’s own quarterly reports of mandatory monitoring at the Salem Harbor Station power plant.

“Abiding by the Clean Air Act is not optional,” said Shanna Cleveland, CLF staff attorney. “According to its own reports, Salem Harbor Station is in continual violation of what the law has deemed necessary to safeguard public health. This casual disregard for the law and the people impacted by Dominion’s negligence must not go on unchecked.”

Recent studies have shown that even short-term exposure to soot has been linked to higher rates of hospitalization for heart and respiratory problems. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable, experiencing health problems ranging from decreased lung function to premature death.

Martha Dansdill, executive director of the public health advocacy group HealthLink and a co-plaintiff in the suit, said, “Salem Harbor Station must not be allowed to continue to pollute with impunity. It is clear that Dominion is not operating in the best interest of the people who live nearby and must breathe in air dirtied by this particulate-laden, toxic plume. Dominion cannot continue its lax management at Salem Harbor Station which risks our health.”

For two decades, CLF, along with residents of Salem and neighboring communities, has fought to force Dominion, and before them the prior owners of the plant, to clean up or shut down Salem Harbor Station. The plant has a long history of violations related to its coal-burning operations, repeatedly exceeding legal limits on the discharge of known pollutants including, over time, mercury, coal ash and now, soot.

The Conservation Law Foundation ( works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England.  CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vital communities in our region.  Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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NOTE: Photos of Salem Harbor Station’s plume are available at:

The press is picking up the story – including the Boston Globe, the Boston Business Journal and the Salem News.

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