Litigation Update: CLF blasts PSNH efforts to avoid accountability for Clean Air Act violations at Merrimack Station

Christophe Courchesne

Merrimack Station in Bow, NH

In more than 50 pages of filings last Thursday, CLF responded to a pair of motions by Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) asking for dismissal of our Clean Air Act citizen suit now pending in federal district court in New Hampshire. That same day, CLF’s lawsuit got a major boost when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a brief of its own, as a friend of the court, to identify the legal errors in PSNH’s key argument.

One PSNH motion challenged CLF’s right to sue PSNH to protect the environmental and public health from Merrimack Station’s illegal pollution. The other motion claimed that PSNH didn’t do anything wrong when it renovated Merrimack Station because EPA regulations allow it to make changes without permits.

In our briefs, CLF vigorously objects to both motions. You can download our briefs in PDF format here and here; our full set of filings, including attachments, is here (7MB .zip file).

PSNH’s illegal projects will increase Merrimack Station’s emissions, which will harm the health and well-being of CLF members. Under federal law, this harm means that CLF has the right to sue PSNH to hold it accountable for violations of the Clean Air Act. Because PSNH failed to get permits for its projects, PSNH violated the law. Those permits would require PSNH to install more stringent and protective pollution controls that all new plants must include, reducing Merrimack Station’s emissions of a wide range of pollutants, beyond the reductions that Merrimack Station’s expensive new scrubber (which is limited to reducing sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions) can achieve.

Incredibly, PSNH’s argument that it is exempt from permitting requirements is entirely based on EPA regulations that do not apply in New Hampshire. It’s not a close call; PSNH’s brief arguing for our lawsuit to be dismissed gets the rules 100% wrong, an astonishing error for a sophisticated company like PSNH, New Hampshire’s biggest utility.

EPA’s filing puts the final nail in the coffin for PSNH’s flawed legal argument. In a 25-page brief, EPA shows how, even if the rules PSNH is citing were the right ones, PSNH got those rules wrong too. As the author of the regulations PSNH cites, EPA explains that those regulations also would require PSNH to obtain permits before undertaking projects that will increase emissions.

It could not be clearer that PSNH’s recent renovation strategy at Merrimack Station — “build first, see what happens later” — violates the Clean Air Act. CLF will continue its fight to hold PSNH accountable for its violations as this case proceeds in the months to come.

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