Pittsburgh – After more than four years of litigation, NELC has secured the largest penalty in Pennsylvania history against a water polluter under the federal Clean Water Act’s citizen enforcement provision.
Under the terms of a consent decree signed on August 3, 2011, by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell, GenOn Northeast Management Company, a subsidiary of Texas-based GenOn Energy, Inc., must pay a total of $3.75 million in penalties and must install cutting- edge wastewater treatment systems to promptly end discharge violations at the company’s coal-fired Conemaugh Generating Station, located near Johnstown.
GenOn, a Houston-based company with over 40 power plants across the country, must achieve compliance with its permit limits in a timely fashion or pay specified penalties for any future violations.
The penalty includes a $250,000 civil penalty paid to the U.S. government and an additional $3.5 million to be paid to the Foundation for Pennsylvania’s Watersheds, to fund restoration and preservation projects in the Conemaugh River watershed (see related story, 2012 Winter – Newport Settlement Will Clean Harbor, Restore Beaches).
“This historic penalty will send a strong message to companies in Pennsylvania and throughout the region,” said David Masur, Director of co-plaintiff PennEnvironment. “Equally important, the company must finally comply with its legal discharge limits and reduce its pollution of the Conemaugh River.”
In March 2011, Judge Mitchell ruled that GenOn had committed a staggering 8,684 violations of the federal Clean Water Act by discharging illegal levels of five different pollutants—some of them toxic—into the Conemaugh River since 2005.
In addition to helping clean up the long-impaired Conemaugh River and its tributaries, NELC’s settlement is likely to foster pollution reductions nationwide.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently writing new national guidelines to regulate the wastewater discharged from flue gas scrubbers, which are used to reduce air pollution at coal-fired power plants. These scrubbers remove pollutants such as selenium and boron from smokestack emissions, but then typically dump them into nearby waterways. The technology that GenOn must now install in Pennsylvania demonstrates that coal-fired plants can instead remove these pollutants from their wastewater prior to discharge.