Clean water advocates have won the first round in a legal fight over permit limits that would prevent the Hatfield’s Ferry coal-fired power plant from dumping polluted water into the Monongahela River. Allegheny Energy is challenging the limits in an effort to avoid installation of pollution controls that would eliminate wastewater discharges of mercury, arsenic, selenium, and other toxic metals as well as salts and dissolved solids that are currently impairing water quality in the river, which is a drinking water source for more than 350,000 people living south of Pittsburgh.
After 40 years of operation without effective controls for air pollution, Hatfield’s Ferry has finally installed a scrubbing system that limits the amount of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that the plant pumps into the air. However, the company has resisted installing equally effective pollution controls that would limit the amount of contaminated water discharged by the scrubbers. As a result, dangerous pollutants that are no longer going into the air are ending up in the river.
“Taking coal waste from smokestacks and dumping it into our rivers makes no sense because coal is no cleaner in our water,” said Aimee Erickson, Executive Director, Citizens Coal Council. “The Citizens Coal Council is committed to working with others around the country to ensure that protecting America’s air from coal burning power plant emissions does not come at the expense of the American people's drinking water.”
“We shouldn’t have to choose between air that is safe to breathe and water that is safe to drink,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice attorney. “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.”
“This is an important victory, and we applaud the state of Pennsylvania and Earthjustice for defending protective limits on water pollution,” said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, of the Environmental Integrity Project. “While the Hatfield’s Ferry scrubber will help clear the air, the court’s recent decision brings us one step closer to keeping the same pollutants out of the Monongahela River, the most important source of drinking water for communities on its shorelines.”
Specifically, Allegheny Energy sought to classify its new scrubber system as an existing source of pollution instead of a “new discharger”—subject to the most stringent pollution control requirements.
In rejecting this argument, Chief Judge Thomas W. Renwand wrote: “We specifically reject Allegheny Energy’s contention that its facility does not fall within the definition of a ‘new discharger’ because it discharges at an existing outfall on the Monongahela River … We also agree with the Department and the Interveners that Allegheny Energy’s position cannot be reconciled with either the plain language of the regulations or the overarching intent of the Clean Water Law.”
Judge Renwand further stated that Allegheny Energy’s argument “would substantially gut the congressional goal to eliminate pollutant discharges to the waters of the United States as quickly as possible.”
Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project and Citizens Coal Council joined together to defend protective limits for sulfate and total dissolved solids in the discharge permit for Hatfield’s Ferry, and they 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 with them, they will need to install pollution controls that eliminate the discharge of heavy metals as well.