Residents Turn Out for Invenergy Public Hearing

            On June 8th 2021 the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) hosted a public hearing for the proposed 639MW shale gas-fired power plant, Invenergy’s “Allegheny Energy Center.” The proposal was met with fiery formal comments unanimously opposed to the development. Despite numerous setbacks and delays to the proposed plant’s construction, the community showed up in force, having continued to monitor its creeping progress.

            Leading up to the public hearing, Mountain Watershed Association, with the support of Environmental Integrity Project and local residents, organized the community for an Environmental Justice meeting and a Technical Comments Prep meeting. MWA also coordinated with ACHD and local residents to provide an in-person viewing of the hearing at the West Newton Gymnasium so those with access issues could still watch and provide testimony. More than 200 residents joined the public hearing and more than 100 spoke out on record against the plant. This was despite technical issues with ACHD’s Zoom account which caused a maximum of 100 virtual participants until about 45 minutes into the meeting. Nearly 100 more joined after waiting. 

            Residents who testified at the hearing cited hits to the critical regional tourism economy, increased reliance on fossil fuels, and Allegheny County’s already abysmal air quality as grounds to deny the draft air permit. Several grassroots environmental organizations spoke alongside residents. Executive Director of the GAP Trail, Bryan Perry, cited his concerns alongside farmers and young city residents in Pittsburgh. Energetic applause followed each community member’s testimony at the gymnasium. 

Public Hearing at the West Newton Gymnasium venue – photo courtesy of the Mon Valley Independent

            One such speaker, Elizabeth Township resident Cathy Anderson, revealed that her family has lived on the same property since 1913, a beautiful parcel overlooking the river valley. If Invenergy seizes the go-ahead from ACHD, she expects her family will move out of the area. “This plant will not only continue to downgrade our already poor air quality,” she said, “but will also decrease property values for countless homeowners. It will reduce the prosperity of our region for generations to come. No one wants to raise children in the shadow of a power plant.”

            If built, Invenergy’s plant would include 180-foot emissions towers. These would be situated over the famous GAP Trail and Youghiogheny River, which continue to be a growing economic driver for tourism in the region, for bike trips, fishing, and boating. It would also add another major source of air pollution to a county that already earns an ‘F’ rating for air quality by the American Lung Association.

            Other residents focused on pressuring ACHD to make the permit as protective and environmentally sound as possible in the event that it is granted. “It’s time for the health department to step up and require Invenergy to continuously monitor the air quality in the environmental justice communities of West Newton, Sutersville and Smithdale,” West Newton resident Joanne Hall emphasized at the hearing. She was not the only resident to express dissatisfaction with draft language in the permit allowing Invenergy to self-report certain emissions only once every two years. Ken Ball, a cattle farmer in Allegheny County, likened it to the fox watching the henhouse. 

Scene near Invenergy’s proposed site, currently popular for outdoor recreation activities like boating, biking, and fishing

            The public hearing wrapped up after just under three hours of comments, and ACHD will now consider the permit’s path forward. On top of resident and organization comments, highly-technical comments arranged by engineers and attorneys—including graphics designed by the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and the Environmental Health Project—were submitted to ACHD that same night. Mountain Watershed Association will continue to support residents opposing this development and keep the community informed on its status moving forward. 

The public hearing was covered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Mon Valley Independent, and KDKA TV.