Nearly two years after initiating a federal court lawsuit against a coal-fired power plant for discharging illegal levels of metals into the Conemaugh River in western Pennsylvania, NELC attorneys have notified the operator of the plant, RRI Energy, of their intent to add newly discovered violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law to the lawsuit.
In a January 2009 letter to RRI Energy— sent on behalf of PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club—NELC alleged that the company, without the required permit authorization, is illegally discharging pollutants into the Conemaugh River from two recently discovered locations.
In 2007, in response to NELC’s federal lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had conducted a site investigation at RRI’s Conemaugh Generating Station. The investigation revealed that, unbeknownst to DEP officials, runoff from the station’s enormous exposed coal pile is discharging directly into a tributary of the Conemaugh River.
In response to NELC’s lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection conducted a site investigation at RRI’s Conemaugh Generating Station, revealing that, unbeknownst to DEP officials, runoff from the station’s enormous exposed coal pile is discharging directly into a tributary of the Conemaugh River.
“The DEP investigation showed that RRI’s disregard for clean water laws is even more extensive than we realized,” explained NELC attorney Josh Kratka.
The runoff was so laden with metals, including iron, that it had a distinct orange color when NELC attorneys and their consulting engineer inspected the facility several months later.
DEP also discovered that RRI was routinely dumping lime, ferric chloride, and hypochlorite into the river, as a cheap – but illegal – way of treating the river water before running it through the plant’s cooling system.
The Clean Water Act and the Clean Streams Law prohibit the discharge of pollutants into the Conemaugh River from a point source unless authorized by, and in compliance with, a wastewater discharge permit. Because RRI never applied for and does not have such authorization, each and every discharge from these sources is a violation of both state and federal laws.
Although two years have passed since the DEP conducted this site investigation, the agency has not initiated any enforcement action against RRI Energy for these new violations. NELC plans to fill this regulatory gap by adding these claims to its enforcement suit.