After 40 years without effective pollution controls, a scrubbing system was recently installed at the Hatfield’s Ferry power plant in Masontown, Penn., limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants the plant pumps into the air. But the plant’s failure to install a scrubbing system for its discharged wastewater means that the dangerous pollutants that formerly fouled the air are now being dumped into the Monongahela River, a drinking water source for more than 350,000 people living south of Pittsburgh.
Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen, representing the Environmental Integrity Project and Citizens Coal Council, successfully fended off a legal challenge from plant owner Allegheny Energy, which sought allowance for its facility to continue polluting the river. The company claimed that it was acceptable to foul the river because the scrubber system at Hatfield’s Ferry should be considered an existing source of pollution rather than a “new discharger.” Chief Judge Thomas W. Renwand rejected the company’s argument this week, deciding in favor of our clients. The decision lays the foundation for requiring a wastewater scrubber system and limiting water pollution from the power plant.
The wastewater produced at Hatfield’s Ferry includes mercury, arsenic, selenium, and other toxic metals as well as salts and dissolved solids. Earthjustice and its clients are defending protective limits for sulfate and total dissolved solids in the discharge permit for Hatfield’s Ferry and are challenging the failure to impose limits on metals such as arsenic and selenium. The first phase of the legal proceedings involves only the sulfate and total dissolved solids limits. If Allegheny is ordered to comply, the company will need to install pollution controls that eliminate the discharge of heavy metals as well.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between air that is safe to breathe and water that is safe to drink,” said Dillen. “This decision by Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board is important because it affirms that Hatfield’s Ferry has to meet all necessary limits to protect water quality in the river.”
Clean air and clean water are not mutually exclusive, nor are they some version of an ecological Sophie’s Choice. Rather, they are two essential elements that together foster healthy communities. By holding polluters such as Allegheny Energy accountable, Earthjustice is requiring energy companies to internalize their costs of operation, rather than passing those costs on to the public in the form of toxic pollution.