SALEM — Salem Harbor Station power plant violated the federal Clean Air Act nearly 300 times over the past five years, according to a lawsuit an environmental watchdog group said it plans to file.
The Conservation Law Foundation of Boston, which has been trying for years to close the Salem plant, announced yesterday that it will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boston seeking more than $1 million in penalties against the plant owner, Dominion Energy New England.
The lawsuit alleges that the coal-and-oil-fired facility exceeded its "opacity" limits a total of 286 times between 2005-2009. The opacity, or density of the gas stream coming from the smokestacks, is a strong indicator of the amount of soot, or small particles of metals, chemicals and ash in the emissions, the lawsuit alleges.
The CLF called the particulates "one of the deadliest pollutants" and an airborne matter that has been linked to lung and heart disease, increased emergency room admissions, and serious health problems in children.
The CLF said it is tracking the four coal-fired power plants in Massachusetts and will file the court action against only Salem because it hasn't completed work on the other plants.
"We think that all coal-fired power plants pose a tremendous threat in terms of climate change and public health," said Shanna Cleveland, a staff attorney for the CLF.
This lawsuit, she said, "also signals another chink in the armor of this particular plant." Dominion, she said, "needs to be taking another look at the impact it's having on public health before it makes a decision to keep this plant running."
A spokesman for Virginia-based Dominion said the plant "operates in compliance with federal and state environmental regulations, including those of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, which are among the most rigorous environmental regulations in the country."
"CLF is notifying everyone of its intent to file a lawsuit," Dan Genest said, "and any response would come only if a lawsuit is actually filed and after we have had the opportunity to review it."
The CLF said it based its findings on quarterly reports that Salem Harbor Station files with the state Department of Environmental Protection. In addition to monitoring nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, the plant uses a light beam to track the opacity, Cleveland said.
There is a direct connection, the lawyer said, between the density of the gas stream and the amount of soot, or harmful material, in the emissions.
"It is well-established that opacity can be used as a surrogate for particulate matter," she said.
The plant performs an annual stack test for particulates but is not required to do continuous monitoring, she said. For that reason, the only day-by-day and minute-by-minute data is gathered by the readings from the opacity monitors, she said.
CLF said it is analyzing additional material, including periods when the opacity monitors were not working, and may add more potential violations to its lawsuit. Failure to monitor the plant is also a violation, the group said.
The Conservation Law Foundation has been battling the Salem plant for several years. In the fall, it held a public meeting here to highlight its efforts to close the plant.
A spokesman at the state DEP said the agency has seen the lawsuit and is reviewing it.
Alleged Opacity Violations
Opacity, or density of the gas stream coming from the smokestacks, is a strong indicator of the amount of soot, according to the Conservation Law Foundation.
* Does not include fourth quarter
Source: Conservation Law Foundation