Settlement Forces Coal-Fired Plants to Reduce Toxic Pollutants in Waterways

(Pittsburgh, PA) January 11, 2018 –Sierra Club and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by PennFuture and the Law Office of Howard Crystal, filed a settlement Wednesday with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that will reduce toxic pollution in waterways from 10 coal-fired power plants that had been operating in the state with expired water permits.  

The groups originally filed the suit last summer, stating that the coal-fired power plants were operating under old and outdated water permits and discharging toxic pollutants into Pennsylvania streams. The federal Clean Water Act mandates that water permits must be updated every five years in order to incorporate new technologies that would protect the nation’s waters.

Among other concerns, the groups alleged that the ongoing and unnecessary discharge of pollutants into waters of the Commonwealth violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“Coal-fired power is one of the worst polluting industries in the state. The Clean Water Act was designed to compel industries such as this to adopt new technologies that would clean up our water as time progressed,” PennFuture’s Vice President of Legal Affairs George Jugovic, Jr. said. “This mechanism completely fails if the state does not uphold its responsibility of issuing timely renewal permits that include limits reflecting adoption of new and improved cleanup technologies. This settlement is a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania streams and public health.” 

In settling the matter, the PA DEP agreed to a schedule to update and draft new water permits over the course of the year for all of the coal plants, with a goal of finalizing them by March 2019.

“We applaud the DEP for stepping up and doing the right thing for the people of Pennsylvania by updating these water permits,” Patrick Genter, Senior Campaign Representative for the Chesapeake Bay at the Sierra Club said. “Not only does this mean cleaner and safer drinking water for communities, but also a healthier environment, which can lead to increased recreational opportunities for fishermen and all those who enjoy our waterways.” 

"When a commonwealth does not follow its own laws, and the laws of our nation, it's a sad and dangerous time for us all. The Clean Water Act needs to be protected and enforced. Recognizing that there is a timetable for pollutant reduction on the table for all of these facilities is a step in the right direction,” Ted Evgeniadis with Lower Susquehanna RIVERKEEPER said. “If pollutant reductions for these facilities, especially Brunner Island, were to be delayed into 2022 or even 2023, citizens of PA, users of the Susquehanna River and aquatic species would all continue to suffer. The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association will continue to work with Sierra Club, PennFuture, and PA DEP to make certain these permits are drafted and finalized according to the timetable presented."
Coal-fired power plants are one of the largest sources of toxic water pollution in the state. Power plants discharge toxic arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium. Arsenic causes cancer; mercury is highly toxic; and selenium can have short and long-term health impacts. 

PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, fighting big polluters with legal muscle, enforcing environmental laws, and supporting legislative policy that protects public health. PennFuture is engaging and educating citizens about the realities of climate change, and giving them the tools needed to influence lawmakers on the issues. Visit www.pennfuture.org for more information.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.

Stephanie Rex, Director of Communications, PennFuture
Emily Pomilio, Sierra Club