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Another Judge Sides with Marylanders against GenOn’s Attempts to Roll Back Clean Water Protections
A victory for local community members, environmentalists, and state regulators
Montgomery County, MD — Two weeks after a Maryland Circuit Court ruled against a coal company’s efforts to block clean water safeguards at its Chalk Point power plant in Prince George’s County, another Circuit Court judge rejected the same company’s attempt to challenge a Clean Water Act permit for its Dickerson plant in Montgomery County.
After a strong push from local residents and organizations supportive of clean water, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) finalized updated Clean Water Act permits for three of Maryland’s six coal-fired power plants. The permits issued in 2018 incorporated new federal limits on several toxic pollutants including:
Arsenic, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin;
Mercury, another potent neurotoxin;
Selenium, which is toxic to aquatic life; and
Nitrogen, which causes algae blooms and dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay.
The limits are set to take effect next year. GenOn Energy, the owner of the three facilities, challenged the permits for its Dickerson (Montgomery County), Morgantown (Charles County), and Chalk Point (Prince George’s County) coal-fired power plants. The permits are being defended in court by the MDE and by a coalition of clean water advocates represented by attorneys with the Environmental Integrity Project. Only the permit for the Morgantown plant has yet to be decided on by the court.
On June 7, 2019, the court entered an order affirming MDE’s permit for the Dickerson plant, denying all relief requested by GenOn, and finding that the clean water advocates were entitled to fully participate in the appeal as parties – a point that was challenged by GenOn.
Various organizations released their comments on the decision below:
“Maryland courts have now twice denied GenOn and should surely deny the company’s attempt to avoid accountability at its Morgantown facility,” said David Smedick, Campaign and Policy Director Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Coal plant owners have resisted these common sense, affordable pollution controls and have instead opted to pursue fruitless appeals with teams of lawyers. GenOn needs to hear the call: Marylanders are done with coal’s dirty pollution.”
“Another Maryland court has confirmed that the law does not support GenOn’s foot-dragging.” said Sylvia Lam, Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “GenOn wanted more time to continue discharging toxic pollution into Maryland waterways – in this case, the Potomac River – and so far, the courts in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties have denied GenOn’s attempts to resist necessary technology upgrades.”
“This ruling is a win for the Potomac River and Marylanders who recreate and make their living from it,” said Phillip Musegaas, Vice President Programs and Litigation for Potomac Riverkeeper Network. “It’s high time Dickerson and other coal plants are held to the strictest standards to keep toxic pollution out of our rivers.”
“There’s no debate that toxic metals in our state’s waterways are incredibly harmful,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “GenOn wanted to keep discharging pollutants that can cause risk of cancer, lower IQ among children, and create deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife. We applaud the two Maryland Circuit Courts that have done the right thing by protecting our communities from the harms of coal and look forward to a similarly positive result from the Charles County court.”
“After MDE finalized its new permits, we had to continue our fight for clean water in the courtroom because GenOn was looking to continue dumping excessive levels of toxins into the Potomac River,” Brian Ditzler, a Montgomery County resident said. “It’s heartening to see that the Circuit Court agrees that the cleanliness of the water we drink and the health of our residents takes precedence over the profits of the coal plant owner. We won’t stop pushing until we have truly coal-free water.”