petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic
Shell's new petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Credit: Nate Smallwood for Environmental Health News and Sierra Magazine)

Shell must seek a new air pollution permit for its Pennsylvania plastics plant

For nearly a year and a half the company has been operating under a construction permit. Now, the plant will be subjected to federal Clean Air Act laws.

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is requiring Shell Chemical Appalachia to submit a new air pollution permit for its massive petrochemical plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, which will subject the plant to more regulatory oversight than it’s been operating under.


The company began operations in November 2022, but has continued operating under its initial construction and temporary operating permit.

The plant emits enough air pollution that it is considered a “major polluter” under the federal Clean Air Act, so it must submit a Title V operating permit. These permits require companies to certify their compliance with federal clean air laws at least annually and provide guidelines for state and local regulatory agencies to issue notifications and fines when companies violate the conditions of their permits.

Shell has a June 21, 2024 deadline to submit the permit application. Once submitted, the DEP must issue or deny the permit within 18 months. As part of this process, there’s typically a public hearing and a 30-day public comment period.

Health and environmental advocates applauded the move, saying it will give nearby communities more information and avenues to hold the plant accountable for pollution.

“Since its opening in late 2022, Shell’s Beaver County plastics plant has been a serial lawbreaker, illegally emitting many tons of pollution into the air we breathe,” said Alex Bomstein, Clean Air Council executive director, in a statement. “DEP’s order to Shell to apply for a Title V Operating Permit for its plant sets up the public and our environment with better protection from harmful pollution, and allows the public to file comments and petition the EPA to object to any potential shortcomings in the resulting permit.”

Within a few months of starting up, Shell’s Pennsylvania plastics plant was fined more than $10 million for exceeding its annual pollution limits for volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other hazardous air pollutants.

Exposure to these pollutants is associated with a long list of negative health effects including dizziness, nausea, respiratory and heart disease, and higher cancer risk. The plant was also cited for discharging benzene, a carcinogen, into the Ohio River, which provides drinking water to about five million people.

Local environmental health advocates requested that the public hearing for the permit happen in person rather than virtually. One local advocacy group, the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community (BCMAC), sent the DEP a letter asking the agency to publish Shell’s permit application online for the community to review.

"We're working with local, regional and national partners who have the legal and technical experience with Title V permits to ensure that Beaver County residents will be accurately informed every step of the way," said Hilary O’Toole, executive director of BCMAC, in a statement. “We will be scheduling meetings and educational events throughout Beaver County to engage municipal leaders and community members.”

Wyoming tribe and city seek federal funding for clean energy projects

The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the city of Cheyenne are applying for federal grants to fund clean energy projects, despite Wyoming's governor declining to participate.

Jake Bolster reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less

North Dakota introduces a limited climate initiative focused on sustainable practices

North Dakota has announced a preliminary climate strategy targeting sustainability, though it notably excludes fossil fuel regulation.

Jeff Beach reports for the North Dakota Monitor.

Keep reading...Show less

Europe's warming trend surpasses global rates, says report

Recent findings reveal Europe as the continent warming the fastest globally, with significant impacts on public health and the environment.

Jamey Keaten reports for The Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less

Climate change becomes a pivot point for Robert Kennedy Jr. in his presidential run

Robert Kennedy Jr., historically an environmental advocate, shifts gears in his presidential campaign, blending environmental concerns with anti-establishment rhetoric.

Scott Waldman reports for POLITICO.

Keep reading...Show less

Disaster restoration workers face health risks from exposure to toxins

Workers in the disaster restoration industry are reporting significant health issues from exposure to dangerous substances while cleaning up after natural disasters.

María Inés Zamudio, Nour Saudi, and Roxana Aguirre report for The Center forPublic Integrity, Futuro Investigates and Columbia Journalism Investigations.

Keep reading...Show less

Fracking changes the landscape near Ohio's Salt Fork State Park

Residents near Ohio's largest state park face changes as fracking expands, altering the region's character.

Megan Henry reports for Ohio Capital Journal.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
earth day 2024

Earth Day reflections from the next generation

This week we're featuring essays from Houston-area eighth graders to hear what the youth think about the state of our planet.

New EPA regulations mean a closer eye on the nation’s petrochemical hub

New EPA regulations mean a closer eye on the nation’s petrochemical hub

Houston’s fenceline communities welcome stricter federal rules on chemical plant emissions but worry about state compliance.

plastic composting

Bioplastics create a composting conundrum

Biodegradable food packaging is a step in the right direction, experts say, but when composted carries risks of microplastic and chemical contamination.

plastic treaty

Groups push Biden administration to take leadership role at upcoming plastic treaty talks

The US has taken a “middle of the road position” so far, environmental groups say.

chemical recycling Youngstown

Listen: Why communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are fighting chemical recycling plants

EHN reporter Kristina Marusic discusses her new three-part series on the controversies surrounding chemical recycling.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.