Man takes stand against project

FRACKVILLE Concerns about potential emissions from the proposed coal-to-oil plant have encouraged one citizen to take a stand.

"We have so much impacting our air right now, from truck exhaust to our co-generation plants," said John M. Gera, "It makes you wonder how much more it can take."

Last April, Gera filed an appeal to the air quality permit that the state approved in March 2004 for the proposed $612 million coal gasification project.

"I don't believe a hearing on that appeal has been scheduled yet," said Mark R. Carmon, community relations coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Wilkes-Barre. Carmon said he couldn't comment further on the matter.

"We're not allowed to comment on an appeal at this point," Carmon said. "We're not going to debate it outside of a court. We'll let a judge decide."

"I think this appeal may stop or delay up to two years the coal-to-oil plant," Gera said, taking the legal process into consideration. "I'm not sure. But without the air quality permit, I don't think they can proceed."

Citizens like Gera will be voicing their concerns about the plant to the U.S. Department of Energy at the two public hearings that are scheduled early next week in Schuylkill County. Those hearings concern not the state's air quality permit, but the federal government's "Environmental Impact Statement for the Gilberton Coal-to-Clean Fuels and Power Project."

The proposed facility is being built by John W. Rich Jr., president of Waste Management and Processors Inc. and Reading Anthracite Co., Pottsville. It's to be built in Mahanoy Township and will turn coal waste into syngas, a clear, zero-sulfur liquid which can be marketed for the production of jet fuel.

In his appeal, Gera said the state failed to take some important issues into consideration when conducting its air quality study.

Select comments from citizens who attended a Jan. 18, 2004, public hearing on the permit were included in DEP's report. Gera was angry because his weren't. Some others weren't either, he said.

One comment he made concerned the number of culm-burning plants in the county and how their total amount of emissions can potentially impact the area.

"I am no scientist, but if you burn that much coal, you must be putting high dangerous toxic pollution in the air," said Gera.

According to the environmental impact study compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy, less than 100 tons of air emissions would be generated from this new facility per year.

Hazardous air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen, could make up about 25 percent of that, the report states.

Gera also said he's not happy about the location of the air monitoring site located near Shenandoah Valley High School.

A year ago, Carl J. Pecora, a DEP air quality specialist based in Wilkes-Barre, said, "We haven't picked up anything harmful since we put it here."

"This air monitoring site is deceptive because it sits upwind of the co-gens," Gera said. "The toxic pollutants from the co-gens travel east, northeast, south to southeast, away from the monitoring site."

Gera is trying to find an attorney with similar concerns about air quality to represent him.

"I'm looking for a pro bono program, and if anyone out there is willing to help it would be appreciated," Gera said. He can be contacted at 462-1121.

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