SCC Must Extend Moratorium on Utility Disconnections; Legislative Action Next Step

Environmental groups unite behind call for extension and data release from utilities

June 5, 2020

Charlottesville — Eleven environmental and marginalized community advocacy organizations today joined statewide calls for the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to extend its moratorium on utility disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint comment submitted by the organizations questions the SCC’s assumption that a moratorium extension will harm ratepayers given the lack of available and relevant data from regulated public utilities including how many Virginia customers have unpaid utility bills, the reserves of each utility, and the amount utilities have overcharged customers in previous years.

The comment includes:

  • A request for the SCC to extend the mandatory moratorium on utility service disconnections until at least the end of the summer.
  • A request for the SCC to obtain weekly data from all regulated public utilities including how many customers have unpaid utility bills, the number of customers disconnected in the current year, and information regarding the financial strength and debt reserves of each utility.
  • A request for the SCC to solicit proposals from all affected utilities on steps those utilities can take to restart their energy efficiency programs or develop alternative programs that reduce consumption while protecting the health of all involved.

Virginia’s largest electricity provider Dominion Energy has declined to comment on how many residential and non-residential customers have unpaid bills or were disconnected in the current year. Dominion has overcharged its customers by $1.3 billion since 2015.

The SCC’s state order suspending disconnections is set to expire on June 15, 2020. Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Virginia, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, League of Conservation Voters Virginia, New Virginia Majority, Piedmont Environmental Council, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network, and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy signed the joint comment to the SCC, due today.

READ the joint comment to the SCC.

Quotes From Participating Organizations:

Harrison Wallace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Virginia Director

“It’s the SCC’s job to protect consumers, not corporations. But Dominion is planning to give their shareholders fat dividends during a time of economic turmoil and also planning to give out targeted grants in the name of justice. If they can do that, they can help struggling families keep the lights on and cool their homes during the hottest season of the year.”

Brennan Gilmore, Clean Virginia – Executive Director

“Families should not face electricity disconnection while Dominion Energy unjustly transfers hundreds of millions in overcharges every year from Virginians to its top executives and shareholders. The State Corporation Commission should provide relief to struggling Virginia families and small businesses by extending the moratorium on utility disconnections and demanding transparency from utilities to better understand the scope of the problem.”

 Jo Anne St. Clair, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley – Chair

“The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley believes that the SCC must be mindful that calamities like the current pandemic, and like the consequences of our ongoing climate crisis, usually burden those who are least able to adapt and recover quickly. The pandemic is not over; its negative economic effects will be with us all, especially the many Virginians who chronically have a serious burden meeting their utility bills. The SCC must consider this reality.”

Michael Town, League of Conservation Voters Virginia – Executive Director

“We should not be debating whether or not to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs in the midst of a global pandemic and economic depression that is especially devastating for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “The moratorium should remain in place until the pandemic is over and Virginia is able to implement just and fair utility reform to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are never put in this position again.”

Kenneth Gilliam, New Virginia Majority – Policy Director

“We are very much still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had greater economic and health effects, likely to be long-lasting, on low-income households and Latinx and Black communities in Virginia. The economic repercussions of the crisis are not equally distributed by race or income across the state; however, measures, such as the moratorium on utility disconnections, provides much needed fiscal relief to low-income customers who generally pay more for energy and are predicted to have greater loss of income throughout the rest of 2020, and well into 2021.”

Kate AddlesonSierra Club Virginia Chapter – Director

“The COVID 19 pandemic has thrown Virginia into a serious economic downturn with many families across the commonwealth facing job loss and financial strain. With Virginia’s hottest months still ahead of us, the SCC must extend the moratorium on utility shut-offs at least through the summer to ensure families and businesses aren’t subject to life-threatening heat. The commission should take steps to offer utility bill assistance and extended repayment programs during this difficult time.”

Will Cleveland, Southern Environmental Law Center – Senior Attorney

With the summer heat bearing down on us, we must do all we can to help people who, as a result of this pandemic, struggle to pay their utility bills. Expanded utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs, bill assistance and payment plans, and data collection are necessary to help all Virginians come through this difficult time.”



Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications Director, 828-817-3328

George Floyd

The recent brutal murder in Minneapolis has forced all of us at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network to confront the injustice that runs rampant throughout our country. Our hearts and thoughts are with the families and communities of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others.

Lives have been senselessly taken, and that can’t be undone. But we can work to shine a light on police brutality, and join justice advocacy organizations to find solutions to this ongoing tragedy. 

Systemic racism permeates nearly everything — from brutal police killings to COVID-19’s disproportionate mortality rate among African Americans to the fact that people of color are disproportionately affected by runaway climate change. We have to work together for permanent and durable solutions that protect every single person of every single race — particularly the most vulnerable — now and in the future.

As an immediate step, we encourage everyone to donate generously to organizations promoting racial justice and raising funds for those affected by this crisis. A few recommendations: 

We also condemn all statements that condone or incite violence against those who are exercising their First Amendment rights to protest this and other recent deaths of African Americans across our country.

The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. We at CCAN have participated in dozens of demonstrations that have been essential for growing momentum for climate solutions. Yet, too often, African Americans are disproportionately targeted at these protests. When CCAN Board Member and frequent climate justice advocate Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. participated in the March for Science, he was targeted and assaulted by the police. When we joined with the #ShutdownDC Coalition to temporarily block traffic around the nation’s capitol to draw attention to the climate crisis, our largely white group was able to block off several intersections without trouble from the police — while the Black Lives Matter blockade was immediately targeted for arrests during the protest and hassled afterwards. 

Everyone should have a right to protest without fearing being killed. Everyone should have a right to walk down a street or sleep in their own bed without fearing being killed. 

For those of you reading this who are white, we encourage you to take this opportunity to learn as much as you can about institutional racism and privilege: 

For those of you who are people of color: Our hearts are breaking for you. If you have a story about what’s going on you’d like to share, we’d love to amplify your voice. Simply respond to this email and we’ll work with you on this. 

There is no climate justice without racial justice. 

In solidarity forever, 

The entire team at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network 

Student Activist Maddie Graham: “Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.”

Transcribed interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Maddie Graham: My name is Maddie Graham. I’m 17 years old and I’m a junior in high school. 

CCAN Organizer Anthony Field: You were recently featured in a Washington Post story called “The Foot Soldiers of the New Environmental Movement.” I read through it and saw the pictures and it was really incredible. How did you feel about it? 

MG: It was really cool to see myself in the Post. It made me seem a lot cooler than I am. But it could’ve been any of my organizer friends in that story. The movement as a whole, the youth, all of us are so incredibly brave and strong, so I think that story could’ve been about any of us. But it is pretty cool. 

AF: How did you get started in climate advocacy? 

MG: I’d always been into the environment. I was in the environmental club in middle school, I always had a garden, I liked to climb trees and be outside. But it was in my sophomore year of high school, during the mid-term elections, when my chemistry teacher told us that if we wanted to make a video — I’m in a communications climate program at school, so I film — she told us if we wanted to make a video encouraging people to vote green she would let us out of class. So that’s what we did, and it got 300,000 views and Bill McKibben retweeted it which was wild. At first people wanted to talk to me about that video, and through that I got connected to other people in the environmental movement. I really enjoyed making that video and wanted to do more. So then I found Sunrise really quickly after that, and then Fridays for Future really started to pick up steam in the USA after that. From there I’ve been organizing every way I can. 

AF: How has organizing changed in this time period? 

MG: On the one hand, it seemed the physical act of organizing hasn’t changed. We were always using Zoom. Most of our organizing happened not in person. On the other hand, everything has changed. Earth Day was online, something we’ve been planning for half a year, we had to pack up and move online. I still think the Earth Day actions were a success and we did a good job with what was given to us, but it was still kind of sad to be sitting inside on Earth Day. 

AF: You can’t necessarily be with friends and family in person, but is there something you can point to that’s been helping you through this situation?

MG: Harry Potter. Definitely. Rereading. Not so much watching the films. This has gotta be my 150th time rereading them. I love Harry Potter. 

AF: Any final thoughts? 

MG: Just want to make sure everyone knows if you do want to digital strike, you can find instructions for doing so at @fff_digital on twitter and on Instagram. It’s easy! Take a picture of yourself with a sign of that week’s theme, tag FFF Digital and DM them if you want to be included in the collage. 

Thousands of Virginians, Scores of National Groups Tell Dominion CEO and Shareholders to Abandon Atlantic Coast Pipeline

More than 4000 residents sign petitions; 78 groups sign on to full-page ad calling on Dominion shareholders to abandon controversial pipeline

RICHMOND, VA — Today, as Dominion Energy meets virtually for its annual shareholder meeting, an unprecedented coalition of advocacy organizations and Virginia residents have sent a message to shareholders and board members, calling on the utility monopoly to abandon its plans to build the highly controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). 

A coalition of 78 prominent advocacy organizations from Virginia and across the country signed onto a letter that will be displayed in a full-page Richmond Times-Dispatch ad and a half-page Washington Post ad on May 6, the day of Dominion Energy’s annual shareholder meeting. The ad, addressed to shareholders, states: “New legislation and legal challenges have rendered the completion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline unrealistic.” The letter points to the pipeline’s $8 billion price tag, eight missing permits necessary for construction, and the fact that Dominion recently informed state regulators that “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable” under the state’s new law requiring Dominion to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. 

A law signed last month by Governor Northam, HB 167, significantly raises the threshold for Dominion to pass any of the cost of the ACP onto ratepayers. In order to recover costs from Virginians as planned, Dominion must now prove a need for the energy the pipeline would supply in Virginia and that the pipeline was the lowest-cost way to produce that energy.

Additionally, two petitions garnering nearly 4,000 signatures were delivered to Dominion executives and shareholders today. With one petition, over 2200 Virginia residents called on Dominion CEO Tom Farrell to walk away from the pipeline “for the financial health of the company.” Another petition gathered over 1800 signatures to tell Dominion shareholders that the pipeline “no longer makes economic sense, even based on Dominion Energy’s own logic,” and that “continuing to pursue this project is fiscally irresponsible.” 


“Dominion Energy’s stubborn push to continue building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline despite ballooning costs, legal and permitting challenges, and a seismic shift in Virginia’s energy landscape betrays its duty to shareholders,” said Brennan Gilmore, Executive Director of Clean Virginia. “The responsible thing — for Virginians and shareholders alike — is for Dominion to shutter the project before another tree is felled.”

“After the coronavirus, the last thing we need is another crisis at our doorstep,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “If built, the pipeline would be a disaster for both the economy and public health. And now that the economic case is stronger than ever, it’s time to end this dangerous project once and for all.”

“Our normal way of life because of the pandemic is not even close to returning. Factor this together with the economic uncertainties and the harmful impacts to the health and welfare of many elderly, low income and majority African Americans in the proposed compressor station neighborhood of  Union Hill, and you have something that is absolutely unjustified,” said Chad Oba, President Friends of Buckingham.

“Recent research shows that higher levels of air pollution increase the risk of death and hospitalization from COVID-19. Increasing toxic emissions takes us on the wrong path, placing Virginians at increased risk from the current pandemic as well as from other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases” Samantha Ahdoot, MD, Chair of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.

The letter to Dominion shareholders was signed by the following organizations: Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, Alliance for Affordable Energy, Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Appalachian Voices, Berks Gas Truth, Better Path Coalition, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Bold Alliance, Bold Iowa, Bridging The Gap In Virginia, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Center for Sustainable Economy, Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Virginia, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Climate Disobedience Center, Climate Hawks Vote, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Divest RVA Earth Action Inc, Earthworks, ENOUGH is ENOUGH Preserve VA, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, First Alliance Consulting LLC, Food & Water Action, Friends of Buckingham, Friends of Nelson, Friends of the Earth, Green New Deal VA, Greenpeace USA, Hip Hop Caucus, Indigenous Environmental Network, Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice, La ColectiVa, Lancaster Against Pipelines, League of Women Voters of Virginia, Lebanon Pipeline Awareness, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Mothers Out Front VA, Movement Rights, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (anti-nuclear), Oil Change International, Our Revolution Alexandria, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preserve Giles County, Property Rights and Pipeline Center, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Reclaim Augusta, Richard Freeman Allan, Richmond For All, Rockbridge Area Conservation Council (RACC), Rockfish Valley Investments, LLC, Scenic Virginia,, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, Sustainable Roanoke, Together We Will Henrico, United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards (UPAL), Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, Virginia Community Rights Network, Virginia Conservation Network, Virginia Democracy Forward (VADF), Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, Virginia Justice Democrats, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Virginia Network for Democracy and Environmental Rights, Virginia Organizing, Wild Virginia, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International, Yogaville Environmental Solutions, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Center For Sustainable Communities, 350 Alexandria, 350 Fairfax, 350 Loudoun,

Denise Robbins, Communications Director, CCAN, 240-630-1889
Cassady Craighill, Communications Director, Clean Virginia, 828-817-3328


Congressman Raskin Leads Letter to Leadership: Oppose Fossil Fuel Liability Relief Now and Always

60 Members Of Congress Reject Attempts to Use the COVID-19 as an Excuse to Shield Industry from Ongoing Lawsuits over Climate Change Damages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last night, 60 Members of Congress sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to “categorically oppose any attempt to confer immunity on the fossil fuel industry or to limit its liability for the damages it causes to people or property.” 


The fossil fuel industry knowingly lied for half a century about the catastrophic damage their product would cause and now they are attempting to use the COVID-19 recovery to evade legal accountability for its wrongdoings. Members of Congress are making clear that the industry will have to pay for the damage it created. 

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated, “We applaud Congressman Raskin and all the lawmakers who put their name on this letter. The fossil fuel industry needs to pay for the damage it knowingly caused. The attempt of these companies to exploit this pandemic and make taxpayers clean up their mess is immoral.”

Those costs are becoming increasingly concrete. Already more than a dozen city, county, and state governments across the country — including the cities of Baltimore and Honolulu; the counties of King, Washington, and Boulder, Colorado, and the state of Rhode Island — have sued fossil fuel companies in recent years to recover billions of dollars in damages resulting from climate change the companies knew their products would cause. Giving liability relief to the fossil fuel industry could keep those cases from having their day in court. 

The letter has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, National Resource Defense Council (NRDC),, Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), Food & Water Watch, Food & Water Action, Oxfam America, Union of Concerned Scientists, Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, VOICES (Victory over InFRACKstructure, Clean Energy Instead), Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN International), Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Climate Hawks Vote, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, Center for Sustainable Economy, EarthRights International, Rachel Carson Council (RCC), Corporate Accountability, and the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. 

The letter opposes liability relief for the fossil fuel under any circumstances, not just during the COVID-19 recovery. The final line reads, “Shielding carbon polluters from proper accountability is an irrelevant and dangerous distraction from the task at hand. It has no place in federal legislation—we think never, but especially not now.”

Contact: Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network,, 240-460-5838


The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

MDE Proposes Rejection of Corporate Attempt to Delay Pollution Reductions at 3 Coal-Fired Plants

Annapolis, MD –  Today, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) announced its proposal to reject permit revision requests that would have significantly delayed water pollution safeguards at the Chalk Point (Prince George), Dickerson (Montgomery County) and Morgantown (Charles County) coal-fired power plants. The updated water pollution permits require the plants to put in place mandatory pollution control measures to reduce discharges of toxic metals into the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers by November 1, 2020. These metals include mercury and arsenic both of which are extremely toxic to humans and pose a serious threat to public health. Other metals like selenium and nutrients like nitrogen, are especially harmful to the aquatic life of the Chesapeake Bay and our communities.  

GenOn Energy, the operator of the coal plants requesting the permit modifications, has a history of fighting against clean water regulations and failing to comply with them. In 2019, GenOn’s efforts to sue to block implementation of the updated toxic pollution requirements in its permits failed and last fall GenOn was cited by MDE for illegal storage and handling of coal ash at the Morgantown facility.   

The Chair of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club Rosa Pinnola Hance released the following statement in response:

“This decision comes as a genuine relief for Marylanders living downstream of the coal plants.  At a time when we are in the midst of a public health crisis, it is comforting that our state agencies are upholding measures to protect the health of our families and environment. It is sad to see GenOn continuing to fight against ensuring basic health & safety of our beloved waters.” 

Leah Kelly, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said:

 “The EPA issued these new pollution limits in 2015 after a delay of over 30 years. Instead of investing in control technology to bring its plants into compliance, GenOn Energy has spent its resources filing unsuccessful appeals in court and otherwise trying to avoid its obligation to reduce its pollution. MDE is doing the right thing here and we applaud their proposed decisions.”

According to Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman: 

“We’re sick and tired of splitting hairs through endless legal and permitting processes with GenOn over how much coal waste the public and the environment can tolerate and how much nature can withstand. These plants spew toxic poison for profit, and then want to foot drag toward more benign and sustainable sources of energy.  This is an inevitable step toward reducing the burden of coal waste contamination for communities that have had way too much of it for far too long.”  

Anne Havemann, general counsel with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: 

“Every day that GenOn tries to delay implementation of these common sense standards is another day that Marylanders are forced to live with arsenic, mercury, and selenium pollution in their water. We’re glad to see MDE put clean water and public health ahead of corporate delay and profits, especially during this public health crisis.” 

Phillip Musegaas, Vice President of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, said: 

“We commend Maryland regulators for taking a stand against corporate polluters’ self-interest and fighting for the rights of all Marylanders to have clean water in their rivers, free of toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants. These eminently reasonable and achievable standards will lead to healthier rivers and communities freed from the threat of coal industry pollution in their backyards and drinking water.”

Daniel Willis (317) 493-9154,

Dominion Energy Abandons Gas Infrastructure Plans Due To Passage of Virginia Clean Economy Act

Statement: Dominion’s IRP a “Snowball” In Forthcoming “Avalanche” of Companies Abandoning Gas Plans

RICHMOND, VA — On Thursday, April 2, Dominion Energy signaled a shift away from its previous intentions to build out fracked-gas infrastructure in Virginia, and pointed to the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851) as the impetus. The monopoly utility asked  the State Corporation Commission for permission to change what it is required to model in its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Dominion wrote in its request that  “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 (the ‘VCEA’).” The statement continues: “The VCEA establishes the objective of 100 percent clean energy by 2045, and permits the construction of carbon-emitting generating facilities only if there is a threat to reliability or security of electric service. For these reasons, the Company believes that the aforementioned requirements related to the development of those specific resources are no longer necessary.” 

Dominion’s previous IRP included 8-10 new combustion turbines and combined cycle facilities under various planning scenarios.

Harrison Wallace, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated in response: 

“After passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, Dominion almost immediately abandoned all its plans for new gas plants. We believe this an open declaration that what we’ve been saying all along is true: There is no future for gas. 

“Dominion’s actions clearly represent the first snowball in what should soon become an avalanche of companies abandoning gas in all its forms including pipelines and generation plants. Now, Dominion should go the rest of the way and close shop on the doomed and unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle. And the other energy companies in Virginia behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Chickahominy gas plant, and more, should follow suit and end their new gas plans as soon as possible. Then they can join us in rebuilding Virginia with a clean energy economy instead.” 

Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, 804-305-1472,
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, 240-630-1889,


The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Fighting Climate in the Time of Coronavirus

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, we at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CCAN Action Fund are working hard to adjust our plans to continue fighting global warming. We know now, more than ever, how important it is to prevent a massive crisis before it arrives. 

So here’s what we’re doing to take care of ourselves and the planet:

First, the health of our staff and surrounding communities is our main priority. We all have the responsibility to carry out “social distancing” as much as possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19. To that end, we are requiring staff to work from home if possible for the next several weeks at least, and we are suspending all CCAN planned in-person events during this time. 

Second, we are shifting our focus to digital campaigns. How can we make large-scale systemic change happen in a world of “social distancing”? Here’s how: by getting “closer” on social media. Deepening our investments in social media will be a key part of our near-term organizing even as we continue to reach out to legislators through the conventional means of email and phone calls. We’ll be in touch soon with more on all that. But here are some things you can do right now: 

Third, we want to make sure YOU are taking care of yourself in these trying times. We’ve included a list of resources at the bottom of this email with advice about social distancing, mental health resources, and more. 

And finally, let’s remember why we fight: We love and care about our neighbors and we want to ensure a basic quality of life for all. Climate change will not only impact the way disease spreads, it will impact every sector of society. So rest assured that we will not stop fighting the fossil fuel polluters. We will not back down. We will keep pushing to bring smart and clean energy policies to our region and nationwide. 

We know that navigating COVID-19 together will be challenging, but we also strongly believe in the power of the people. The need for progressive movements is apparent now more than ever. We are proud to be a part of this movement.  

Below are additional resources that might help you navigate COVID-19:

Court Rules in Favor of Environmental Groups on Hazardous Air Pollution from Power Plants

Decision by U.S. Court of Appeals Forces EPA to Reconsider Loophole from Pollution Limits During Startups

Washington, D.C. – In a major victory for environmental organizations, a court today ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must go back to the drawing board and reconsider a loophole it created for power plants, allowing them to avoid complying with pollution limits on mercury, arsenic, and other hazardous air pollutants during plant startups. 

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit does not immediately eliminate this loophole that EPA granted in 2014 for coal-fired power plants during their startup periods.

However, the decision means that EPA must now consider stronger air pollution control regulations. If EPA attempts to maintain the loophole, environmental groups believe that the agency will face an uphill battle in convincing the courts that the loophole is lawful.

“Today’s court decision is an important win for public health and everyone living downwind of coal-fired power plants,” said Patton Dycus, a Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project who led the legal effort by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Earthjustice and Sierra Club.

“This opinion forces EPA to come to grips with the critical objections we raised about this illegal loophole that EPA created for dirty power plants during their startups,” Dycus said. “We’re hopeful that EPA will do the right thing and remove the loophole.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: “At a time when public health is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we’re glad to see the court recognize the public health implications of this EPA loophole that allows power plants to emit unchecked amounts of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants when they start up.”

In 2012, EPA introduced its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule for coal- and oil-fired power plants. The rule set standards nationally for hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, which can cause brain damage; arsenic, chromium, cadmium and nickel, all known carcinogens; hydrogen chloride, selenium and other pollutants.

In 2014, EPA relaxed the rule to allow power plants to avoid complying with numeric pollution limits on these pollutants for four hours every time they start up, when more pollution can pour from the smokestacks as control equipment is brought online.

Power plants typically have 9 to 10 startup events every year. But some plants report more than 100 startup pollution events annually.

The Environmental Integrity Project, CCAN, Sierra Club and Earthjustice all challenged this loophole in court in 2015, arguing in part that EPA did not give the public a fair opportunity to comment on the rule. The environmental groups also argued that the loophole conflicted with EPA’s Acid Rain regulations, which have long required power plants to comply with numeric limits during startup. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today ruled that it was wrong for EPA to deny the groups’ petition to reconsider the loophole. This sends the rule back to the agency for reconsideration and possible revision.


Media contact: Patton Dycus, Attorney, Environmental Integrity Project (404) 446-6661 or

The Environmental Integrity Project is an 18-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws to protect public health.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Activists Rally Against Governor Hogan’s Inadequate Draft Climate Plan Ahead of Key MDE Meeting

Rally at MDE headquarters

BALTIMORE, MD — On Friday, January 31, at 12:30pm, dozens of concerned Maryland residents held a rally to call out the inadequacies in Governor Hogan’s draft plan to address climate change. The press conference took place just before the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) held its final public meeting on the draft plan. 

Joyce Dowling, Leader of Clean Air Prince Georges, stated: “Brandywine has become a sacrifice zone in Maryland and it’s an environmental justice issue — five gas-powered plants in a 13-mile radius in southern Prince George’s County and northern Charles County. This is an atrocity for our health and our children’s future besides adding greenhouse gases to the climate crisis. The governor’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan supports more gas and fewer renewables than are necessary — it is not a realistic plan.”

In October, 2019, MDE released its plan to reduce its legally mandated Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. This came two weeks after 26 Maryland-based advocacy organizations sent a letter to the agency expressing “deep concern” that the plan was nearly ten months overdue. MDE has held multiple community forums for public comment on its draft plan throughout the state. The meeting on January 31 will be the final meeting. 

“Public officials who pretend to take strong action on climate, when they are in reality doing very little, are just as culpable for the climate crisis our kids are inheriting as big polluters,” said Steven Hershkowitz, Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “If the Hogan Administration won’t fix their false advertising, our General Assembly will need to step in and act in their stead.”

“Governor Hogan’s draft climate action plan is an insufficient response to the climate emergency facing this state and our entire planet,” said David Smedick, Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club. “One of the most glaring problems in the Governor’s draft plan is the continued use of coal-fired electricity in Maryland all the way through, and even after, 2030. Coal is a 19th century technology that has absolutely no place in a 2030 climate action plan. The first item on Governor Hogan’s climate action checklist needs to be a firm plan to move Maryland beyond coal that also supports a transition for the fossil fuel workforce in the state.”

The Maryland Climate Coalition has many concerns about the draft plan. Concerns include: 

  • It relies on outdated science in critical areas and unproven technologies. For instance, it fails to put us on track to meet mid-century targets identified by international scientists as necessary to avoid the worst of climate disruption. 
  • The plan provides few clear policy specifics on how to achieve goals.
  • It relies, for example, on the success of Governor Hogan’s proposed legislation called “Clean and Renewable Energy Standard” (CARES), which has been developed with minimal public input, and continues to rely on the burning of fossil fuels, and expanding nuclear power, which are neither clean nor renewable.
  • It has no community environmental equity analysis regarding the impact of the draft plan on communities of color, low-income communities, communities historically overburdened by pollution, and communities historically underserved by our energy and transportation systems.
  • It suggests Md. will achieve 100% clean electricity while still burning fossil fuels.

Additionally, a recent policy review from the Center for Climate Strategies — which has extensive experience working on climate policy with the MDE — found that Hogan’s draft climate plan is critically flawed and falls far short of what is needed to address the climate crisis.

The Maryland Climate Coalition has a vision for climate action that looks at the entirety of the greenhouse gas problems our state is experiencing from every major source—not just energy usage. We know a solution that will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 is necessary.  We must address energy production, transportation, agriculture, and housing as well as reduction strategies such as forestation and sequestration.

The Coalition will support legislation to be sponsored by Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky, Chair of the Education, Health, and Environment Affairs Committee, and Delegate Dana Stein, Vice-Chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee, that would reform the state’s climate plan in line with the Coalition’s principles. 

Denise Robbins, Communications Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network,, 240-630-1889