A win for Springfield’s air quality and citizen activists
June 19, 2013. The Solutia manufacturing facility in Springfield, MA, announced yesterday they would be replacing their coal-fired power plant with a natural gas fired unit by 2016. The move follows a threat of legal action by the environmental group the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and Springfield-based Arise for Social Justice.
Air quality modeling conducted by PFPI determined Solutia’s coal plant is likely violating the EPA health standard for sulfur dioxide, and in February 2013, PFPI and Arise filed a notice of intent to sue with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), stating that the groups would take legal action unless the agency revised Solutia’s outdated air permit to make it comply with current air quality standards. DEP then informed Solutia that the company must demonstrate how it can operate without violating pollution laws.
“Our modeling indicated that the facility is violating EPA air quality standards by emitting hundreds of tons of sulfur dioxide each year,” said Mary Booth, PFPI’s director. “Solutia’s quick decision to switch to natural gas following our demand letter to the DEP shows the company realized it couldn’t reduce emissions if it continued to burn coal. The change to gas will reduce the plant’s emissions considerably and improve air quality in Springfield.”
Solutia was acquired by Eastman Chemical in 2012 for $4.7 billion. The company manufactures layered glass products that make glass safer and more energy efficient.
“It’s good that Solutia has decided to switch to natural gas and not engage in a protracted fight to continue burning coal” said Michaelann Bewsee, director of Arise. “However, we still want to see the company take the necessary steps to reduce its emissions from coal-burning prior to 2016 when the switch to gas is complete.”
Bill Gibson, the community activist who initiated the campaign to close or convert the coal-burner, submitted a letter and public petition to Solutia in early June. “We collected hundreds of signatures from community members requesting that Solutia stop burning coal and live up to the environmental goals Eastman posts on their website . This is an important step toward Solutia being a better neighbor in the Springfield community.”
Springfield is among Massachusetts’ poorest cities and has received an “F” rating from the American Lung Association for its air quality. The region has rates of childhood asthma that are significantly higher than the state average. The switch to natural gas at the Solutia facility will significantly reduce emissions of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, all pollutants that worsen asthma and other lung and heart diseases.
Kelly Bitov, PFPI’s attorney, praised the company’s decision to make the switch away from coal. “Springfield is an environmental justice community with a disproportionate burden of industrial pollution. We hope Solutia will be an active partner in working to clean up Springfield’s industrial legacy and reduce illnesses associated with air pollution.”
The groups’ letter to DEP requesting action on Solutia’s polluting coal plant is found here.