Air Emissions Tampering Leads to Felony Charges at Power Plant
The owner and management company of the Berkshire Power Plant—a 252-MW natural gas–fired combined cycle plant located in Agawam, Mass.—agreed to plead guilty on March 30 to felony charges that the companies violated and conspired to violate the federal Clean Air Act.
The indictments against Berkshire Power Co. (BPC), the owner of the plant, and Power Plant Management Services (PPMS), the plant manager, stem from tampering that occurred between 2009 and 2011 on air pollution monitoring equipment and the related false emissions reporting that resulted.
A Culture of Deception
According to documents filed in federal and state court, between January 2009 and March 2011, BPC engaged PPMS to manage the Berkshire Power Plant, including overseeing day-to-day operations and maintenance and acting as the owner’s representative for the plant. A PPMS employee served as the plant’s general manager and as BPC’s onsite representative. BPC also retained Wood Group Power Plant Services (now EthosEnergy Power Plant Services) during that same time to provide the day-to-day plant operations and maintenance services.
The Department of Justice press release suggested that Fred Baker, the former operations and maintenance manager at the plant, and Scott Paterson, a former instrument and control technician, were intimately involved in the deception. During the time in question, Baker allegedly instructed Paterson and other operators at the facility to tamper with the plant’s continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS).
The CEMS is an environmental monitoring system, required by federal law, which continuously samples, measures, and records the concentration of regulated pollutants. Baker, Paterson, and others at the Berkshire plant presumably tampered with the CEMS to save money, delay repairs, and avoid reporting to federal and state regulators that the plant, at times, was releasing pollutants—specifically, nitrogen oxides in this case—in excess of regulatory limits.
Initially, the defendants are said to have lowered the CEMS monitors’ readings by approximately 0.5 parts per million (ppm). In the summers of 2009 and 2010, when the plant underwent required independent audits of the pollution monitoring equipment, Baker instructed Paterson to take out the fraudulent adjustments in the monitors prior to the audit and reintroduce them after the auditors had left. Paterson is believed to have made the fraudulent adjustments prior to, and after, each independent audit. The Berkshire plant was required to, and did, report the results of these audits to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2010, the 0.5-ppm adjustment was allegedly not sufficient to allow the plant to run at full power and comply with the facility’s Clean Air Act permit. Rather than doing the necessary repairs to the plant and its environmental pollution control equipment, or running the plant at lower power levels, Baker is believed to have instructed staff, including Paterson, to lower the CEMS readings even more to avoid reporting pollution emissions.