The controversial debate over the proposed reopening of the English Station power plant in Fair Haven continued in earnest at a state hearing last week.

The plant’s owner, Quinnipiac Energy, has encountered serious opposition since a Department of Environmental Protection hearing officer last fall granted it a preliminary permit to operate the plant. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment, the city of New Haven, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and many neighborhood and environmental groups protested the decision, citing serious health risks for residents in an already polluted neighborhood.

At a hearing before DEP Commissioner Arthur Rocque last Wednesday, attorneys for the CFE and New Haven joined forces to present an oral argument urging Rocque to rescind the permit, which allows the operation of the plant.

Rocque, who has the power to confirm, modify or revoke the permit, said he will make his decision in the coming months. Currently, the permit, if approved, gives Quinnipiac Energy permission to operate the plant only during peak periods for a total of approximately 300 hours every year.

But environmental experts claim that during those peak periods, the hot and humid summer months when the sun is most powerful, pollution is at its peak levels.

The sun’s energy converts exhaust from the plant’s burning oil into ground-level smog, something that experts say would be very dangerous to Fair Haven residents. And since most homes in the neighborhood do not have air conditioning, residents must open their windows in hot weather, increasing their impact to dangerous emissions.

“These are going to be high exposures over a short period of time,” said Nancy Alderman FES ’97, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc., an environmental advocacy group. “The air pollution during those days would be substantial. Without a critical need for the power, we should not be putting populations at risk.”

But Quinnipiac Energy officials claim their plant would be in compliance with all the standards. In January, Scott DeGeeter, the company’s managing director, called the city’s opposition to the reopening of the plant “clearly political” and said his project is environmentally friendly and will increase the city’s tax base.

“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.

The plant, which would operate on a part-time basis, is considered a “minor source,” said Dana Young, an attorney for the CFE. She said the regulations for such plants are less strenuous than those imposed upon a full-time facility.

“If you apply a computer analysis, they’re technically in compliance,” Young said. “But it’s trickier than a technocratic analysis. It requires one to look at it and say, ‘is it going to hurt the population around the plant?'”

Located in a densely-populated section of Fair Haven, English Station would emit large, concentrated quantities of pollutants and would pose a serious risk to the neighborhood’s residents — particularly children and the elderly, Blumenthal said in a press release.

“This issue is a matter of life and breath for the residents of Fair Haven,” he said. “The DEP must ensure that Fair Haven residents do not bear the undue, unfair, unhealthy burden of English Station’s emissions.”

New Haven and CFE officials said they were optimistic after the hearing but are prepared to file a motion for reconsideration should Rocque decide to approve the permit.

“I think we have the stronger case,” Young said. “It’s going to be up to Rocque, who has the duty and the responsibility to deny this proposal. He’s going to send people to the hospital if he doesn’t.”