Monday 20 August 2018

Environmental Organizations point to dam release as reason to hold Exelon Corporation accountable during dam relicensing

(Baltimore, Md.) – Boaters, commercial watermen and shoreline communities are coping with large amounts of trash and debris in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waterways, a result of powerful floodwaters from last week’s storms. Large piles of woody debris, plastic and other floating debris are evident on many shorelines on the Western Shore of Maryland. Environmentalists say that the debris is only one visible part of the slug of pollution that entered the Bay when the Conowingo Dam opened 20 flood gates last week in response to several days of heavy rain upstream of the dam.

“The floating debris littering the Chesapeake Bay is like the tip of an iceberg,” said Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Suquehanna Riverkeeper. “We see the debris because it floats, but underneath that is more pollution. And if the floodwaters were powerful enough to send all that trash downstream, imagine how much sediment pollution came with it. Unfortunately, that’s going to have a lasting impact on Bay water quality.”

Exelon Corporation owns and operates the dam for profit. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license to operate the dam, but under federal law it needs the State of Maryland to certify that the dam operations will meet state water quality standards. Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27 and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed to intervene in this case, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“The aftermath of last week’s dam release underscores why it is so important to address the sediment pollution stored behind Conowingo Dam,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “By suing the State, Exelon is seeking to disarm Maryland of one of its key tools to protect water quality in the relicensing process. While we feel that Maryland’s certification is missing some key elements, we absolutely support states’ authority to protect water quality and require power companies to reduce pollution from the operation of their dams.”

Since its construction in 1928, Conowingo Dam has trapped polluted sediment from the Susquehanna River and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area. Scientists have concluded that the dam’s reservoir is now at capacity and studies estimate that there are nearly 200 million tons of sediment, nutrients and other pollutants trapped behind the dam. During major floods caused by large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the Chesapeake Bay in the form of pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper called on other environmental organizations to intervene in the lawsuit to support the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“This is our only opportunity in the next 50 years to get meaningful pollution reductions at Conowingo Dam – we have to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the cleanup,” said Nicholas.

MEDIA CONTACT: Betsy Nicholas, 202-423-0504, Betsy(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org

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Waterkeepers Chesapeake is a coalition of nineteen independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. www.waterkeeperschesapeake.org

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is a non-profit watershed association that advocates for safe drinking water, sustainable use of natural resources, and the ability to fish and swim in the Susquehanna River and her tributaries

On July 20, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene in a federal court action regarding the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam. The dam is owned and operated by Exelon Generation Company, LLC and its current license expired in 2014. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the State of Maryland must issue a Water Quality Certification, certifying that the project will meet state water quality standards before FERC can grant a new license.

The State of Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27 and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed to intervene in this case, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

“The Water Quality Certification for Conowingo Dam is critical for not only the Susquehanna River, but for the entire Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Exelon is seeking to disarm the State of one of its key tools to protect water quality in this relicensing process. While we feel that Maryland’s certification is missing some key elements, we absolutely support states’ authority to protect water quality and require power companies to reduce pollution from the operation of their dams. In its lawsuit, Exelon is essentially seeking to dodge the Clean Water Act and shirk its responsibility for the pollution associated with its dam. Someone is going to have to pay to cleanup that pollution, and if it’s not Exelon it will be Maryland taxpayers. And we’re talking about a 50-year permit – if we don’t get this right, we’ll be paying for a generation.”

For more information, please contact Betsy Nicholas at betsy(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org or 202-423-0504

Court filings:

Motion to Intervene

Memo in support of intervention

Efforts continue to stop two huge pipelines that will cut through the region: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. There are several legal challenges pending on both pipelines but construction continues. Waterkeepers Cheseapeake recently filed a request to the State Water Control Board asking them to direct the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to conduct stream-by-stream analyses of crossings and to impose the necessary standards to ensure full protection of Virginia’s water resources. We also requested that the Board put on hold MVP and ACP development until all legal and regulatory challenges are resolved.

Earlier this year, the Maryland Department of the Environment approved a water quality permit for TransCanada’s pipeline that will tunnel under the Potomac River near Hancock, MD, with some special conditions. This approval was deeply disappointing to us and all our partners in the No Potomac Pipeline campaign. Efforts continue to stop the pipeline.

Dominion Energy’s plans to build a natural gas compressor station across Potomac River from Mount Vernon revealed there is more to it than spoiling the view. There will be a spider web of pipelines bringing fracked from the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Pennsylvania to the Cove Point LNG export facility on the Chesapeake Bay. Even the Eastern Shore is being threatened by 171-mile fracked gas pipeline starting in Rising Sun (Cecil County), passing through all Eastern Shore counties (except for Worchester), before crossing into Virginia to end at a proposed power station in Accomack County.