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5 Pa. coal-fired power plants to close

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- GenOn Energy Inc. plans to close five of its older coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania over the next four years.

The company, based in Houston, said Wednesday that tough new environmental rules make it unprofitable to operate the plants, which generate a total of 3,140 megawatts of electricity. The plants are in Portland, Shawville, Titus, New Castle and Elrama. Two plants in Ohio and one in New Jersey will also be closed. The company said the timeframes are subject to further review based on market conditions.

The Sierra Club said in a statement that closing the plants will prevent about 179 premature deaths, 300 heart attacks and 2,800 asthma attacks each year.

"Above all, this is a win for public health and for families who have been breathing polluted air from these outdated plants," said Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

But Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said that as many as 315 people could lose their jobs.

"I am dismayed by the news that hundreds of Pennsylvanians will lose their jobs because of this impending wave of federal regulations. While I fully support sensible, existing power plant regulations to protect our air, the cumulative effect of these new rules, which are some of the costliest in the EPA's history, is overwhelming."

Tougher air quality rules from the Environmental Protection Agency are forcing some companies to choose between costly upgrades, closing older plants or building new power plants that can also run on cleaner-burning natural gas.

Nilles said building a wind farm is cheaper than building a new coal plant.

"What matters now is ensuring that GenOn does the right thing and transitions these workers into the growing clean energy sector," he said.

GenOn said initial plans are for the Elrama, Pa. and Niles, Ohio plants to close in June, and the rest in 2015.