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Sierra Club to sue over NOx emissions from Cheswick plant in Pennsylvania

Environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club intends to sue the owners of the 565-MW Cheswick plant in Pennsylvania for failing to run their air pollution controls to control for smog-forming pollutants called nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

Using public data, the Sierra Club claims Cheswick's NOx emissions violate federal and state environmental standards under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania's state implementation plan, which the commonwealth uses to comply with federal air pollution standards. NOx, which is emitted by automobiles, power plants and other sources, can mix in the presence of sunlight with other chemicals in the air to form ground-level ozone, or smog, which under certain exposures can negatively impact public health.

Not running its air pollution controls led Cheswick to violate its operating permit and put local communities and public health at risk, Thomas Schuster, Sierra Club's senior campaign representative for the group's initiative aimed at shutting down coal-fired power plants, called the Beyond Coal Campaign. NRG Energy Inc. acquired the plant in 2012 when it bought GenOn Energy Inc. The company previously spent $400 million on emission controls at Cheswick. Located in Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, Cheswick is equipped with scrubbers to control for sulfur dioxide, a contributor to acid rain and particulate matter, and selective catalytic reduction equipment, a stringent form of NOx controls, EPA data showed.

NRG Energy spokesman David Gaier said, "The assertions in the letter are entirely without foundation, and the data cited in the letter to support the allegations are simply incorrect. The Cheswick station has been and is in full compliance with all limits and requirements of its air permit, and should Sierra Club proceed, we'll vigorously demonstrate that its suit is meritless."

The plant's owner GenOn Americas generation, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, has 60 days to respond to the notice.

In 2015, a federal district court in Pennsylvania dismissed a 2012 class action lawsuit against the station brought on by local property owners who claimed the plant's air emissions of coal ash, dust and particulates damaged their properties.

In the summer of 2017, the Sierra Club and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper also sued the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for allowing 10 coal plants to operate on outdated water quality permits. The lawsuit reached a settlement in January.

GenOn on June 14, 2017, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas' Houston Division, according to NRG's Form March 1 Form 10-K. In that same time, NRG separated GenOn and its roughly 16,400 MW of assets, including Cheswick, from its portfolio. Without GenOn, NRG owned 33,091 MW of capacity mainly across Texas and across states in the western and northeastern U.S.