EPA Holds Piedmont Green Power Accountable for Air Pollution

The Georgia biomass plant’s operating permit is too lax, agency agrees

Pelham, MA. December 16, 2016-Acting on a petition filed by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), the EPA ruled this week that the emissions permit granted to Piedmont Green Power, a 60.5 MW biomass plant in Barnesville, Georgia, does not enforce safe emissions limits. The EPA agreed with PFPI’s 2015 petition that  the plant’s permit does not have adequate fuel testing, monitoring, or reporting requirements to ensure that it burns “clean” uncontaminated biomass, and that emissions testing is not adequate to ensure that the plant stays below emissions limits for hazardous air pollutants.

“The Piedmont plant’s permit makes promises the plant would not emit excessive pollution, but typical of many biomass plant permits in the U.S., it didn’t actually require the plant to comply,” said Mary Booth, Director of PFPI.

The Piedmont plant received $49 million as a taxpayer-funded Stimulus grant intended to promote clean energy. At full-time operation, it can burn over 750,000 tons of wood per year. Documents obtained by PFPI found that state air permit engineers commented that it would be difficult for the facility to assure low contamination levels in fuel obtained from multiple suppliers, and that while limiting fuel contamination had been promised on paper, maybe a better policy between the plant and its fuel suppliers would be “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“We are pleased that EPA agreed that the Piedmont permit needs revision, and we hope EPA will take a closer look at many so-called “clean” biomass plants around the country that pollute the communities where they are located,” said Booth.

EPA is requiring the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to ensure the Barnesville plant performs fuel monitoring, but states that the state agency may still allow the facility to determine the amount of hazardous air pollutants emitted with a calculation approach, rather than by monitoring the smokestack for pollution.  The community will have an opportunity to comment on how the plant controls pollution when the EPD re-opens the permit for public comment.

View PFPI’s petition to EPA on the Piedmont operating permit here.

View the EPA’s decision on the petition here.

Partnership for Policy Integrity