Judge Sides with Community on Coal Company’s Attempt to Roll Back Clean Water Protections

Upper Marlboro, MD —  A Maryland Circuit Court ruled in favor of local community members, environmentalists, and state regulators on a power plant owner’s efforts to block safeguards protecting clean water at the Chalk Point power plant in Prince George’s County.

Clean Water Act permits issued to three Maryland coal plants 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 Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), the agency that wrote the permits, and by a coalition of clean water advocates represented by attorneys with the Environmental Integrity Project.

On May 23, 2019, a judge signed an order affirming MDE’s permit for the Chalk Point plant, finding that the clean water advocates were entitled to fully participate in the appeal as parties – a point that was challenged by GenOn – and denying all relief requested by GenOn.

Various organizations released their comments on the decision below:

“For nearly two years now, thousands of Marylanders have called for the elimination of toxic coal waste in their water,” Patrick Grenter Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Maryland. “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.”

“The Maryland Department of the Environment complied with black letter law in issuing this permit, but GenOn wants more time to continue discharging toxic pollution into the Patuxent River,” said Leah Kelly, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “The company has known about these new limits since 2015 and waited three years to start planning the necessary technology upgrades. Luckily, the law does not support GenOn’s foot-dragging, and the court saw that right away.”

“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 Maryland Circuit Court for doing the right thing and protecting our communities from the harms of coal.”

Fred Tutman at Patuxent Riverkeeper said, “We are delighted that the Judge saw through GenOn’s arguments. The Chalk Point facility on record has inflicted mostly air and water pollution, including numerous violations, and poisoned groundwater for over 40 + years on Prince Georgians. Justice was served, and the Patuxent will be better off because of it.”

Contact:
Patrick Grenter, patrick.grenter@sierraclub.org, (412) 889-8787
Alex Amend, alex.amend@sierraclub.org, (404) 457-8937
Tom Pelton, tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org, (202) 888-2703
Denise Robbins, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, (608) 620-8819
Frederick Tutman, fred@paxriverkeeper.org, (301) 276-7913 ext 6

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