After a state hearing officer last fall granted Quinnipiac Energy a permit to reopen the English Station power plant, politicians and environmentalists joined in protest, citing the threat of increased smog in the already polluted New Haven area.

Denouncing the Department of Environmental Protection for granting the permit to Quinnipiac Energy, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment appealed to the DEP commissioner and garnered the support of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the City of New Haven and many neighborhood groups. A hearing before DEP Commissioner Arthur Rocque is scheduled in the immediate future.

Quinnipiac Energy purchased the oil-based power plant after it had been inactive for 10 years. The permit gives it permission to operate English Station only during peak periods for a total of approximately 300 hours every year, said Scott DeGeeter, managing director of Quinnipiac Energy.

But those peak periods — during the hot and humid summer months when air conditioning is in high demand — are when the sun is most powerful. The energy from the sun converts the power plant exhaust from burning oil into ground-level smog.

Since the plant would operate on a part-time basis, it is considered a “minor source,” which means its regulations are less strenuous than those of a full-time facility, said Dana Young, a staff attorney for the CFE.

“On an hourly basis, they emit twice as much as a ‘major source’ such as the New Haven Harbor Plant,” Young said. “People don’t breathe in yearly increments, people breathe in a moment-by-moment basis. On a short term basis, the emissions of this plant will expose people living in this neighborhood to serious cardiopulmonary events.”

English Station is located in a densely populated section of Fair Haven that is home to many low-income, minority residents — particularly children and the elderly — who are most susceptible to the large, concentrated quantities of pollutants emitted by the plant, Blumenthal said.

“This issue is a matter of life and breath for the residents of Fair Haven,” Blumenthal said in a press release. “Unfairness to Fair Haven requires rejection for violating environmental justice.”

A CFE study reported that the two-mile radius around the facility contains an unusually large concentration of children, as well as 20 public and private schools, 12 facilities for preschool children and at least 16 parks and athletic fields, according to a brief prepared by the CFE.

“With one out of 11 school children in Connecticut having asthma, the New Haven area simply can’t afford to put more fossil fuel into the area — when the smog levels are the highest,” said Nancy Alderman FES ’97, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

The city is opposed to the reopening of the power plant, said James Foye, New Haven’s director of public information.

“We don’t want the plant started because it’s an oil-burning plant,” Foye said. “It will really wreak havoc with people with asthma.”

In New Haven, some 2,500 students have asthma, up from 900 students 10 years ago, Foye said.

Realizing that New Haven’s children are increasingly susceptible to asthma, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced last November that the city has converted its entire fleet of vehicles — including all 251 school buses — to Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, which is more environmentally friendly.

According to the state DEP web site, the number of days that Connecticut was out of compliance with federal air quality standards has nearly tripled since 2000.

But DeGeeter said his project is environmentally friendly and will increase the New Haven tax base. He said the only reasons the city would oppose the reopening of the plant despite the hike in tax dollars “are clearly political.”

“What I do know is that this facility sat dormant for 10 years and the city had ample time to find a productive use for this property and they did not,” DeGeeter said.

DeGeeter also said that “under certain conditions, oil can be as beneficial — if not better — than natural gas.”

But CFE officials said they remain hopeful that the appeal to the state DEP commissioner will be successful.

“Permitting the operation of an inefficient, oil-burning plant in the middle of a dense urban neighborhood with large numbers of elderly and children would expose New Haven residents to unacceptable, significant air pollution,” Young said. “The commissioner of the DEP has the statutory authority, the duty, and the responsibility to deny this permit application.”