OU to meet with Sierra Club, NRDC over alleged Clean Air Act violations at Lausche Heating Plant
By CG Editor-in-Chief Erich Hiner
In a joint letter sent to OU President Roderick McDavis on Oct. 18, the groups claimed that Lausche is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s regulations on hazardous air pollutants.
“Failure to remedy these ongoing violations of the Act could subject the university to a government- or citizen-initiated Clean Air Act enforcement action, which could subject the university to civil penalties and require the school to undertake the installation of costly pollution controls,” the letter stated.
Stephen Golding, OU vice president of finance and administration, responded to the letter Dec. 20. In university emails obtained by College Green Magazine, Golding said OU strives to comply with state and federal emissions standards. OU officials denied that Lausche, located on Factory Street, is in violation of the act.
“Ohio University does not believe it is out of compliance with the Federal or State Clean Air Act, and in fact our reports to the Ohio EPA are all well within compliance,” OU Media Specialist Jennifer Krisch said in a written statement.
Golding and OU Associate Vice President of Facilities Harry Wyatt declined to comment for this article.
Dawn Weiser, Golding’s assistant, planned the meeting. Neither she nor the university public information office disclosed the event’s exact time or place. The meeting will be Monday on OU’s Athens campus sometime in the early afternoon, Weiser said. It will not be open to the media or public.
The Sierra Club and NRDC base their claims on their own legal interpretation of Lausche’s emissions records. After reviewing the records for the past several years, the NRDC concluded that the facility has several violations. That interpretation was the basis for the initial letter to McDavis, said Nachy Kanfer, Midwest representative for the Sierra Club.
Although lawyers from both sides will be present at Monday’s meeting, neither party has taken legal action. Kanfer said the environmental groups will avoid taking OU to court.
“There is no lawsuit and we hope there never will be one,” Kanfer said. “We have merely informed the university of the liabilities they have incurred.”
As of now, neither the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency nor the U.S. EPA is involved. Kanfer said the EPA could disagree with the groups’ interpretation of the law.
The Clean Air Act holds older facilities to lower emissions standards.
The U.S. EPA allows coal plants built before 1977 to emit substantially more than plants built after that time. If a plant is renovated, it is considered a new facility and must comply with tighter standards.
While Lausche would usually be exempt from strict emissions standards because of its age, the 44-year-old heating plant’s boilers underwent substantial modifications in 2000. Those modifications are the focus of the controversy, said NRDC Senior Attorney Shannon Fisk. The NRDC and Sierra Club consider the improvements major enough to require new standards and pollution controls for the plant.
“There’s strong evidence that Ohio University’s heating plant has been modified,” Fisk said. “If they want to keep running a dirty coal plant, they must install controls.”
According to emissions records obtained by College Green Magazine, Lausche has been emitting thousands of tons of chemicals and pollutants.
In 2009, the plant emitted 1,338 tons of sulfur dioxide, the key compound in acid rain, according to OU’s 2009 emissions fees report. The plant also released 81 tons of carbon monoxide, 18 tons of hydrochloric acid and 420 pounds of ammonia, according to the 2009 emissions inventory. Lead, arsenic, formaldehyde, mercury and other substances were released in smaller amounts.
“They are emitting these levels of pollution because they do not have modern pollution controls on the building,” Fisk said.
The Ohio EPA fined OU $67,216 for its 2009 emissions. OU is allowed to emit certain amounts of pollutants as long as it pays the necessary fees.
Fisk and Kanfer will represent their respective organizations at the meeting. While OU officials have not said exactly who will represent the university, Golding wrote in his Dec. 20 letter that he will attend the meeting with OU Associate Director of Legal Affairs Nicolette Dioguardi and David Northrop of Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, a business law firm that practices energy and environmental law.
OU Beyond Coal lead organizer Badger Johnson said he will also attend the meeting with three members of his organization. Johnson was listed as a co-signer for the initial letter to McDavis. Kanfer said it was the student-run Beyond Coal chapter at OU that asked the Sierra Club to look into Lausche.
Fisk said he hopes to convince OU to give up burning coal altogether. Tougher emissions regulations will soon go into effect, making any attempt by OU to keep burning coal costly and unsustainable, Fisk said.
Several U.S. colleges and universities such as Cornell, Case Western, Penn State and Ball State have looked into retiring their coal burning plants. Some have already moved on to cleaner heating sources such as geothermal or natural gas.
“We believe that … the most sensible action would be to shut down the coal boilers and install something cleaner,” Fisk said.
Lausche is near the end of its lifespan. Former OU Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus said in a Sept. 25 College Green Magazine report that the plant has 15 years at most before it must be retired.
Fisk, Kanfer and Johnson all said they have high hopes for the meeting.
“There’s definitely room to be optimistic,” Johnson said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
Johnson said that if the university is willing to work with the students and the students are actively participating, then the “possibilities are endless.”
–CG News Editor Lucas Bechtol contributed to this report
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of David Northrop of the law firm Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur because Northrop’s name was misspelled “Northrup” in the Dec. 20 letter written to the Sierra Club by Ohio University Vice President of Finance and Administration Stephen Golding.
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