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Attorneys contend gas-fired plant would make existing air pollution worse
The location for a proposed gas-fired power plant near Buena Vista. (Invenergy illustration via Elizabeth Twp. Zoning Hearing Board)
Several environmental organizations are appealing a decision made last month by Allegheny County to approve an air permit for a large gas-fired power plant which could pose environmental and public health risks.
Invenergy’s proposed Allegheny Energy Center would be a 639-megawatt plant located in Elizabeth Twp., along the Youghiogheny River near Buena Vista. (See the original application to the Elizabeth Twp. zoning hearing board, PDF download)
A coalition of four environmental groups said under the permit, Invenergy would be able to turn the plant on and off frequently, which could lead to unlawful spikes in air pollution.
Alex Bomstein, senior litigation attorney for the Clean Air Council, a member of the coalition, said the regional pollution caused by this type of facility would exacerbate asthma and cause heart health problems over time.
“Southwestern Pennsylvania has some of the worst air in the country,” Bomstein said. “We’re all trying to fix that. And this takes us exactly in the wrong direction. And those types of pollutants, they generally stress a person’s system, and people who are already vulnerable, are put in a lot worse of a situation.”
The Environmental Integrity Project, representing Clean Air Council, PennFuture and Mountain Watershed Association, filed an appeal to the Allegheny County Health Department last week. A health department spokesperson declined to comment due to ongoing legal matters.
The proposed plant is next to two communities in neighboring Westmoreland County — West Newton and Sutersville — with environmental justice concerns: low-income communities that often bear the brunt of pollution.
A virtual public hearing in June drew more than 200 people, many of whom were worried about its potential public health impacts.
Lisa Graves-Marcucci, Pennsylvania coordinator for community outreach at the Environmental Integrity Project, said a new gas-fired power plant puts Pennsylvania in misalignment with world climate action goals.
“Is this type of energy really what we need, or can we create those good-paying, family-supporting wages by doing renewable energy sources?” Graves-Marcucci said. “It’s just puzzling to us as to why the county and the state would rally behind this type of operation.”
Coalition members added they hope to see the air permit rescinded entirely.
Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia for Public News Service. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
Originally published November 10, 2021.