Against a backdrop of 18 months of steady opposition from health, faith and environmental groups as well as members of the community and elected officials, the city’s Air Management Services on Nov. 29 issued the final permit required by SEPTA to build a gas-fired power plant in the heavily populated Nicetown neighborhood.
Pollution from natural-gas combustion is known to produce nitrogen oxides that are precursors to ground-level ozone (or smog), as well as large quantities of ultrafine particles, which may be a significant health risk, although there is currently no EPA standard.
Nicetown is already burdened with a great deal of air pollution. The plant would be located between SEPTA’s Roberts Avenue Rail Yard and Midvale Bus Depot, which serves 300 diesel buses, and close to the busy Roosevelt Expressway. In 2012, a Philadelphia Health Management Corp. study estimated that 31 percent of children in the surrounding 19140 zip code had been diagnosed with asthma.
Responding to those who raised concerns about ultrafine particles, Air Management, a division of the Philadelphia Health Department, said it had determined that “UFP emissions from the project are not expected to have a significant impact on public health or air quality.”
SEPTA says the $26.8 million, 8.6 megawatt plant, proposed as a cost-effective solution to persistent PECO blackouts that affect the northern portion of the Regional Rail system, will reduce greenhouse gases at the site. However, methane leakage during extraction and transport are not being considered; when those are taken into account, studies have found that the climate change impact of gas is just as significant as coal.
Research is under way to determine feasibility for appealing the permit. To learn more or get involved, go to www.350philadelphia.org/septa.
Karen Melton is a 350 Philly volunteer.