Prove your humanity

By Tom Riese / WVIA News

A yearslong environmental fight in North Central Pennsylvania ended in April when a company withdrew its plans to build a gas-fired power plant in Clinton County.

The multinational Bechtel Corporation, a Virginia-based engineering and construction company, was slated to develop the plant in the borough of Renovo, but lawsuits filed by three environmental groups delayed construction.

Lawyers for the Clean Air Council, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the levels of pollution projected for the power plant. Although the state’s Department of Environmental Protection approved air permits for the plant, the groups appealed the decision to Pa.’s Environmental Hearing Board in 2021.

After building delays and permit extensions, a hearing was scheduled for this summer, according to court documents. But Renovo Energy Center LLC, with Bechtel Corp. as its builder, issued a statement in mid-April.

“We do not see a path to a reasonable conclusion of the project’s air permit appeal, and have made the difficult decision to discontinue development,” a spokesperson for the LLC wrote.

Environmental groups said their appeals were meant to protect the community’s health.

“The community was not given information about the harms that would come to them from living next to a highly-polluting large facility,” said Alex Bomstein, legal director at the Clean Air Council.

Bomstein said the Renovo plant would have been the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state, behind the Keystone and Conemaugh coal-fired power plants, according to most recent emission data from the Pa. DEP. But the top two greenhouse gas-emitting plants are set to close in 2028, he said.

Organizers at the environmental groups reached out to residents in Renovo two years ago. Some community members emerged as vocal opponents of the power plant.

Matt Walker, Clean Air Council’s advocacy director, called the local group Renovo Residents for a Healthy Environment “small but mighty.” Some members of the group told Walker they faced threats and intimidation from neighbors that strongly supported the power plant project.

Many other residents silently opposed the project, according to Walker.

“The residents in this group went around town, knocked on doors and got hundreds of people to sign a petition opposing the power plant, which is a huge portion of the number of people that live in Renovo,” Walker said. Census data showed 1,061 people lived in Renovo in 2020.

Mike Flanagan, CEO of the Clinton County Economic Partnership, said the project had been in the works for about nine years for “an area that badly needed it.”

“It would have meant construction jobs, permanent jobs and revenue for our taxing bodies,” Flanagan said.

He added there are currently no alternate plans for development at the site of a former rail yard, but his group hopes to find a new suitor.