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Sierra Club: Investigation Reveals Proposed HECA Coal Plant Would Violate Clean Air Act

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Dirty Coal Plant Outside Bakersfield, CA Set to Worsen the Area’s Severe Air Quality Problems
Friday, May 31, 2013
Refugio Mata, Refugio.Mata@sierraclub.org, (805) 428-4075
Andrea Issod, Andrea.Issod@sierraclub.org, (415) 977-5544 or (413) 559-7445

Bakersfield, CA – The Sierra Club formally submitted comments challenging the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s preliminary determination of compliance for the proposed coal-powered ‘Hydrogen Energy California’ (HECA) plant. The comments come amid intensifying local opposition to the construction of the power plant due to air pollution and the resulting asthma and other respiratory and public health impacts. In its submission of comments to the Air District, the Sierra Club argues that HECA would violate the Clean Air Act by relying on 30 year old illegal offsets, and Sierra Club’s modeling reveals that the project will violate state and federal ambient air quality standards for particulate matter.

“The 30 year old offsets HECA proposes to use are a laughable way to justify new pollution in the already overburdened Valley,” said Evan Gillespie, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign Western Region Deputy Director. “To be crystal clear, this project will emit huge amounts of new pollution meaning more asthma attacks, more emergency room visits and more missed school and work days for Kern County residents. The offsets HECA purchased will do nothing to offset the new emissions from this boondoggle.”

Local residents have questioned several aspects of the offsets the developer has purchased, including whether new emissions from the coal plant can be mitigated by emission reduction actions that took place several decades ago. The San Joaquin Air District has based its initial approval of the permit partly on assuming that the high levels of new pollution produced by the plant would be offset by emission reductions credits that Massachusetts-based SCS Energy purchased. However, it has been revealed that some of the credits are more than 30 years old, meaning that the developers would not make any ‘new improvements’ to current air quality. Additionally, upon further investigation, Sierra Club has learned that some of HECA’s old offsets were never legal in the first place, and they were never supposed to be used at a new facility.

Sierra Club also corrected errors in HECA’s modeling and has found that the project would exceed state and federal ambient air quality standards for particulate matter that are set to protect public health.  The San Joaquin Valley already experiences very high levels of particulate matter equal to or smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10), which are very close to putting the region back into ‘nonattainment status’ for this pollutant. The PM10 impacts from the HECA Project only add to this concern and could jeopardize the current PM10 attainment status in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The coal plant would use coal shipped from New Mexico and petroleum coke, or "petcoke," and emit dangerous pollutants in the process, including fine particulate matter and ozone precursors. The EPA has designated the county as an extreme ‘non-attainment’ area for ozone, the primary driver of smog, and also non-attainment for fine particulate matter. An astounding 1 in 8 children and 1 in 6 adults in the county suffer from asthma, and studies have shown a direct correlation between particulate pollution and asthma hospitalizations in the San Joaquin Valley.


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