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With Catskill plant improved, Greenport proposal looks worse than ever

A public relations spokesman for St. Lawrence Cement has recently claimed that the company has signficantly reduced the nitrogen oxide emissions of its Catskill, NY plant, by some 1,079 tons per year. If true, this would appear to be good news for everyone -- including opponents of the Greenport proposal, which now looks less appealing than ever.

The company is, in effect, admitting that their supposedly “state of the art” Greenport proposal would not result in any NOx reduction -- and could actually result in a major increase of the dangerous pollutant. The company's revised figures could also result in the need for them to buy more Emissions Reduction Credits (ERCs). In addition, SLC’s Greenport analysis for the finest dust particles (or PM 2.5), which also relies heavily on "netting" the difference of the two facilities, may need to be reassessed in light of the claimed reduction at Catskill.

In light of the company’s claims, the need full adjudication of the issues identified by two administrative law judges last December is clearer than ever. The ALJs found a need for sworn testimony from both sides on numerous issues, including those related to NOx and PM 2.5, even before this new claim by St. Lawrence Cement which further muddies their case. Similarly, Friends of Hudson calls on SLC again to make a full exploration of reasonable alternatives at their Catskill site in light of this news. The ALJs ordered supplementation of the record on this topic, along with identification of ERC sources. St. Lawrence Cement has, to their discredit, tried to avoid analysis of these and other issues through a pending appeal to DEC Commissioner Crotty.

With this apparent Catskill baseline NOx "reduction," the permitted levels for every regulated pollutant at Greenport would now become an increase over baseline Catskill levels except for sulfur-related emissions. The new NOx baseline makes the Greenport project's permitted levels roughly 1,000 tons per year dirtier than Catskill’s existing “baseline.”

Those who have read the excellent analyses by Elizabeth Nyland and others already know that St. Lawrence Cement has relied heavily on a claim that their "typical" emissions in Greenport would be lower than their "baseline" figures for the existing Catskill plant. Readers also know that SLC has conveniently ignored that they have applied for a much higher permitted levels than their "typical" promises--promises which are not enforceable--while conveniently ignoring that many more people would live close to the Greenport stack. (This remains true even if one knocks 10% off the top of their Greenport projections, as SLC has claimed those levels are 110% of capacity.)

Even using SLC's unenforceable, empty promise of typical emissions, the new NOx "baseline" would make the new Greenport plant’s nitrogen oxide emissions essentially identical to those of its older Catskill plant. Friends of Hudson argues, as we have before, that after 30 years of exemption from the Clean Air Act in Catskill, the company owes the region a signficant NOx reduction -- not a plant which is as dirty at best, or 1,000 tons dirtier at worst.

(It would not be surprising to opponents if the company now also tries to revise down the NOx figure for Greenport to compensate. However, unless SLC has changed any of the technology proposed for Greenport, any such adjustment to their "typical" projections would have to be treated with a large-diameter grain of salt. The existing plant uses wet-process technology, while Greenport would be dry-process.)

At the end of the day, Friends of Hudson's questions about the company’s “baseline” emissions have become more relevant than ever. Our members have been questioning the accuracy of SLC's Catsill baseline emissions figures for several years now. One expert hired by the SLC Community Forum (who later became a Friends of Hudson consultant), Dr. Alex Sagady, raised serious questions about the apparently arbitrary and unspecified methodologies for estimating Catskill numbers as long ago as Summer 2000.