Latest volley by Hu Honua opponents describes EPA concerns

PEPEEKEO, Hawaii: Hu Honua may have gotten the OK from the Hawaii County Windward Planning Commission, but opponents have not given up their fight.

In a press release credited to the organization “Preserve Pepe’ekeo Health and Environment”, the focus is on a document that spells out the concerns expressed by Environmental Protection Agency towards the biomass project.

The group submits:

EPA EXPRESSES SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS WITH PROPOSED HU HONUA BIOMASS PLANT IN PEPEEKEO

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9 office recently issued its comments to Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) Clean Air Branch (CAB) on the draft permit for Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC’s proposed biomass facility in Pepe’ekeo, Hawaii. The EPA expressed concerns and questions DOH’s ability to enforce air pollution control standards due to the lack of meaningful permit conditions, and cites the omission of reliable data to support Hu Honua’s and DOH’s claims.

Pepe’ekeo, Hawaii July 28, 2011– The EPA’s comments on Hu Honua’s proposed biomass power plant in Pepe’ekeo on the Big Island question both the reliability of the applicant’s data and the proposed status as a “Minor Source” rather than a “Major Source” of air pollution under the Clean Air Act regulations and thresholds for hazardous air pollutants. Discussing the carbon emissions from the plant, the first comment states, “EPA believes that CAB [Hawaii Clean Air Branch] has not sufficiently documented that this boiler will not be a new major source of CO”.

Hu Honua is not the first company in the biomass industry to be accused of suspicious projected emissions data to avoid being regulated as a major source. There seems to be a trend indicated by the numerous biomass proposals which have been shelved or rejected in the past year as communities and health agencies discover the true level of projected emissions and consequential health impact caused by permitting several more years of major smoke stack pollution in their communities.

Last week in Washington State, a group of seven environmental organizations challenged a permit for a biomass power plant, alleging that the owner colluded with the state permitting authority to grossly understate its toxic pollution emissions in order to get the plant permitted, deceiving the public with false data and disregarding the additional tons of pollutants that will actually be emitted, thereby poisoning the residents. The Washington state challenge identified a tactic often used to achieve radically lower pollution estimates that was also cited by the EPA in their critique of the Hu Honua permit application: to selectively omit reliable EPA pollution standards. The EPA challenges Hu Honua’s use of differing factors for projecting hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions; and the EPA highlights their concern that the effect of these varied factors is to keep the projected quantities below the levels requiring Major Source controls. Hu Honua’s suspect use of different factors for various pollutants keeps the total of their projected emissions at 24.9 tons per year, squeaking just below the 25 tons per year “Major Source” trigger. The EPA states in their fourth comment that “if the emission factors for any of the nearly 80 HAP compounds are underestimated, HAP emissions from Hu Honua may exceed 25 tpy.”

Additional concerns cited by the EPA in its eight page letter to the Hawaii Clean Air Branch include the EPA’s recent approval of biomass facilities half the size of Hu Honua’s that demonstrate actual projected emissions much higher than what Hu Honua states in its permit application. The EPA states in its first comment, “In sum, we have not seen any instance of a stoker boiler of the permittee’s size being able to achieve the CO emission limits that CAB is proposing for this permit.”

The EPA’s analysis of the draft permit validates earlier allegations by community groups that Hu Honua intentionally manipulated the application data in order to keep it just below the Major Source trigger, thus avoiding significantly more effective and more expensive pollution controls. In March 2011, an independent analysis of the air permit by the non-profit research organization, Partnership For Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that “across the board, pollution estimates for the plant were reverse-engineered to fall close to, but just below, thresholds that would trigger regulatory requirements for greater pollution controls” and consequently greater safety and air quality for the community residents.

The recent contested case hearing challenging Hu Honua’s application for a Special Management Area (SMA) permit to re-start the plant in the shoreline conservation zone involved the highest number of challengers in the Planning Department’s recollection. Despite this high level of concern, the Hearing Officer, the Planning Director, and the Hawaii County Planning Commission decided that Hu Honua would cause no significant deterioration and approved the SMA permit. The EPA’s significant concerns indicate a different reality. Community members are now in the process of appealing the County’s decision.

Steve Strauss, attorney for a number of residents and landowners challenging the County Windward Planning Commission’s approval stated, “Regretfully, this is another in a long line of matters requiring Court correction of defective County agency decisions. For decades, County planning agencies have ignored, misinterpreted and misapplied State laws requiring adequate environmental review and protection, often at the behest of untested, mainland or foreign developers. In this case, the County Windward Planning Commission also disregarded overwhelming scientific and other evidence that the project will cause serious, adverse environmental impacts and likely endanger public health. Meanwhile, Hu Honua’s public relations machine continues to churn, touting the supposed benefits of logging and burning trees for fuel.”

The full text of the EPA comments can be read here (pdf file): Yosemite.epa.gov 

The article on the suit in Washington is located at: http://masoncountyprogressive.blogspot.com/2011/07/nippon-orcaa-air-permit-appeal-filed.html

The full text of the Partnership for Policy Integrity analysis can be read at:
http://www.pfpi.net/et-tu-hawaii-biomass-developers-low-ball-numbers-to-avoid-pollution-controls

Keep Our Island Clean and Preserve Pepe’ekeo Health & Environment are community organizations seeking to ensure that Hawaii Island chooses renewable energy options that are truly clean, efficient and sustainable.

Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC is converting the former Hilo Coast Power Company plant at Pepeekeo into a modern biomass energy facility, company representatives say. After sugar operations ceased, the facility operated for some years as a coal-fired power plant. Hu Honua will use only biomass. The goal is for the plant to be operational by late 2012. It will produce 24 megawatts of power, about 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs and about enough for 14,000 homes. It expects to employ about 100 construction workers for up to a year for plant refurbishment and then about 30 fulltime workers at the facility.

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