Power Companies to Pay Penalty for Potomac and Patuxent River Pollution

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A company that operates power plants accused of violating permits and polluting the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers will pay a $1 million penalty and take steps to protect and restore the environment under an agreement filed in federal court, according to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles.

NRG Chalk Point, LLC and GenOn Mid Atlantic, LLC, which operate the Chalk Point and Dickerson power plants, respectively, also will perform $1 million in environmental projects and upgrade wastewater treatment plant technologies at the coal-burning facilities under the agreement.

Maryland, the plant owners, and other parties to the case filed a joint motion in federal court to enter a consent decree that contains the agreed settlement of alleged violations of the plants’ water discharge permits. The court entered the consent decree on Friday, Aug. 26.

“Power plants have a responsibility to keep Maryland’s rivers, skies and lands clean as they strive to provide affordable and reliable energy,” Secretary of the Environment Grumbles said. “This strong enforcement action includes a stiff penalty, improved nitrogen pollution prevention technology at the plants and significant investments in projects to protect the health of our priceless Potomac and Patuxent rivers.”

The Chalk Point Electric Generating Station, on the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County, and the Dickerson Electric Generating Station, on the Potomac River in Montgomery County, exceeded the annual limits in their discharge permit for nitrogen from 2010 to 2013, according to a complaint filed by the Maryland Department of the Environment in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The alleged permit violations occurred after “scrubbers” were placed into operation in 2009 at the facilities to remove such air pollutants as sulfur dioxide and mercury and otherwise comply with the Maryland Health Air Act. Problems with the equipment designed to treat wastewater from that process led to excess levels of nitrogen discharged to the rivers, according to the complaint.

Excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus lead to lowered levels of oxygen needed to support aquatic life in waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay. Chalk Point, LLC and GenOn Mid Atlantic, LLC are installing about $5 million in technology upgrades at each of the two plants to maximize treatment of nitrogen and will add monitoring systems to its wastewater treatment operations.

The consent decree includes, in addition to the requirement that the owners pay a $1 million cash penalty, stipulated penalties for failure to timely meet obligations or for exceeding interim nitrogen limits. Under the consent decree, the plant owners will perform “supplemental environmental projects” valued at $1 million to benefit the Potomac and Patuxent watersheds.

The Department of the Environment will propose renewal permits for the plants under a public participation process. The permits to be proposed will include nitrogen limits to regulate the performance of the new wastewater treatment plant technology being installed as shown by a pilot study and a new facility wide cap on total nitrogen protective of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

The consent decree was filed with the court July 6. Because the suit that led to the consent decree included claims under the federal Clean Water Act, the agreement was subject to a 45-day review period by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

source: Maryland Department of the Environment

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