Pennsylvania environmental regulators are investigating health complaints after the Invenergy natural gas power plant in Jessup Pa. began spewing plumes of smoke this week. The company says the emissions are temporary and part of a planned commissioning process.
Photo Courtesy: Jerry Crinella
Yellow smoke, health complaints prompt state investigation at new gas power plant
As the Harrisburg reporter for StateImpact Pennsylvania, Marie Cusick covers energy and environmental issues for public radio stations statewide. She’s also part of NPR’s energy and environment team, which coordinates coverage between the network and select member station reporters around the country. Her work frequently airs on NPR shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Since 2012, Marie has closely followed the political, social, environmental, and economic effects of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom. Her work has been recognized at the regional and national levels– honors include a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Previously, Marie was a multimedia reporter for WMHT in Albany, New York and covered technology for the station’s statewide public affairs TV show, New York NOW. In 2018, she became StateImpact’s first FAA-licensed drone pilot.
Pennsylvania environmental regulators are investigating health complaints after Invenergy’s Lackawanna Energy Center natural gas power plant under construction in Jessup Pa. began spewing plumes of colorful smoke. The company says the emissions are temporary and part of a planned commissioning process. Kim Crinella
Pennsylvania environmental regulators are looking into health complaints after residents say a natural gas power plant being built near Scranton started emitting noxious, greenish-yellow smoke over the weekend.
“I live a half-mile from the plant. It was burning my nose, throat, sinuses and chest,” said Jessup resident Rella Scassellati.
A state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman confirmed the agency is investigating the complaints, but could not provide further details Wednesday. Photos and videos posted on social media show the plant billowing thick smoke.
Dan Ewan is vice president for thermal development with Invenergy, the Chicago-based company building the plant. In an emailed statement, he said the plant is undergoing a short-lived commissioning phase, which should be completed this week.
“This temporary configuration results in both a visible vapor plume and audible noise,” Ewan wrote. “There are no chemicals used in these process, and the noise has been monitored and is within Borough noise ordinance limits.”
The plant is in the borough of Jessup, in Lackawanna County — about 10 miles northeast of Scranton. It’s expected to be fully operational next year.
At 1,480 megawatts, it will be one of the largest gas-fired power plants in the United States. As StateImpact Pennsylvania and the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, the project has stirred controversy and upended local politics in the small town.
Scassellati is part of a group called Citizens for a Healthy Jessup, which has been raising concerns about the environmental effects of the plant since it was first announced in 2015. She said the emissions began Saturday and continued through Tuesday.
“We knew it would be bad, but this is so much worse than we thought,” Scassellati said. “And it hasn’t even opened yet.”
Jerry Crinella is among those opposing the plant. He was appointed Jessup borough council president last fall. He described the smoke as “canary-yellow” and said his wife was among those who felt a burning in her throat.
“It’s not normal to see bright yellow smoke blowing over the town,” he said. “There were many people posting on Facebook, ‘I’m an asthmatic and I really feel this is affecting me.’ If it’s one or two people, it could sometimes be mind over matter, but it was too many unrelated people who were feeling this.”