Friday, May 25, 2018

Bay Journal: Exelon Sues Maryland Over Unfair Burden Posed By Conowingo Dam Requirements

By Karl Blankenship, Chesapeake Bay Journal

The owner of Conowingo Dam on Friday challenged conditions Maryland placed on the hydroelectric facility’s continued operation, saying the pollution cleanup ordered by the state imposes an “unfair burden” that would cost “orders of magnitude” more than the dam is worth.
Exelon Corp. filed an appeal asking the Maryland Department of the Environment to reconsider its decision in late April requiring the company to pay up to $172 million annually to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution flowing past the dam and to make other changes in the dam’s operation to improve fish habitat and water quality in the lower Susquehanna River and Upper Chesapeake Bay.
The Chicago-based energy company simultaneously filed suit challenging the MDE decision in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the Maryland Circuit Court of Baltimore City. Exelon said it went to court at the same time it asked the MDE to reconsider its decision because of the “seriousness of the issues at hand.”
“The dam itself does not produce any pollution,” Exelon said in a statement issued Friday. “Rather, the science clearly shows that the pollutants that travel down the Susquehanna River, from New York and Pennsylvania, are the source of the nutrients and sediments that flow into the Bay.”
At issue is how to resolve one of the more intractable problems facing Bay restoration efforts. For most of the past century, the 94-foot dam has been trapping sediment and nutrients that would otherwise reach the Chesapeake.
But the reservoir behind the structure has reached its capacity, and the once-trapped pollutants now flow into the Bay just 10 miles downstream.
The state-federal Bay Program partnership has estimated that it will require an annual reduction of 6 million pounds of nitrogen and 260,000 pounds of phosphorus to offset the impact of the dam’s lost trapping capacity.
That would be roughly an additional 5 percent reduction for a river where nutrient control efforts are far behind schedule.
Bay Program partners plan to write a new cleanup plan to offset that additional pollution, but they have not indicated how those reductions — which come on top of the obligations states already face to meet cleanup goals — would be paid for, or who is responsible for implementing them.
Exelon is seeking a new 50-year operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to continue generating power from Conowingo, one of five hydroelectric facilities along the lower Susquehanna River.
But as part of the licensing process, Maryland has to issue a certification that operation of the dam will not degrade water quality.
Maryland issued that certification April 27, but it imposed numerous conditions it said were needed to mitigate water-quality impacts from the dam.
Along with the requirement that Exelon fund nutrient pollution control practices, it called for other actions, such as additional efforts to curb debris that flows downstream and changes to dam operations that the state says affect downstream habitats for fish and wildlife.
In issuing the water quality certification, MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles said that the requirements were part of “a holistic approach, working with Exelon and our fellow watershed states, to meet our Bay restoration goals and help launch a restoration economy.”
But in its filings Friday, the utility countered that the state’s nutrient reduction requirement alone could cost more than $7 billion during the 50-year license period, expenses that “exceed, by orders of magnitude, the economic value of the Conowingo Project as an operating asset.”
Exelon contends that requiring a dam owner to remove pollution originating from upstream sources would have “precedent-setting implications for the hydroelectric industry.” The company called it “unprecedented” for a state to make such demands on a hydro facility.
“The health of the Chesapeake Bay is a shared responsibility, and we need to engage multiple states and stakeholders in an effective long-term solution,” Exelon said in its statement.
The utility also objected to additional requirements sought by Maryland for the control of trash and debris at the dam, which it also asserts comes from upstream sources.
In response, the MDE issued a statement saying it will “vigorously defend our comprehensive Conowingo plan to restore the river and the Bay. The Hogan administration is committed to using science, law and partnerships for environmental progress throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Conowingo plan is at the heart of our multi-state strategy to deliver the results Marylanders expect and deserve.”
Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s acting vice president for environmental protection, defended the state’s action.
“For decades, the Conowingo Dam has generated millions of dollars for its owners, who benefit from a public resource,” she said. “It is completely reasonable that Maryland now require them to help mitigate the pollution caused by the dam’s operation.”
For more information on Pennsylvania’s water quality cleanup plans, visit the Chesapeake Bay Steering Committee webpage.
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(Reprinted from the Chesapeake Bay Journal.)

May 28 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The May 28 PA Environment Digest is now available.


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DEP Environmental Justice Advisory Board To Hear Presentation On Environmental Rights Amendment May 29

On the agenda for the May 29 meeting of DEP’s  Environmental Justice Advisory Board is a presentation on Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment by Franklin Kury, the author of the legislation that resulted in the Amendment.
Also on the agenda are updates on the Environmental Justice Program and the Draft Environmental Justice Policy, the Driving PA Forward VW Settlement Funding Program, a presentation on the PA Solar Future initiative and DEP’s update to the Climate Action Plan.
The meeting will be held in Room 105 of the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg starting at 9:00. Click Here to register to attend the meeting by Webex.
For more information and available handouts, visit DEP’s  Environmental Justice Advisory Board webpage.  Questions should be directed to: John Brakeall, 717-783-9731 or send email to: jbrakeall@pa.gov.

Nature Abounds Seeking Volunteers For Juniata River Sojourn June 14-17

Nature Abounds is seeking volunteers to be part of the upcoming Juniata River Sojourn to be held June 14 to 17.
Volunteers are needed to help with registration tables, food preparation, and boat safety.  Volunteers receive one day of free paddling, not to mention the benefit of connecting with nature.
Questions about volunteering should be directed to Doug Beri at 814-765-1453 or send email to: doug@natureabounds.org.   
More information on the sojourn, visit the Juniata River Sojourn webpage.
For more information on the programs, initiatives and other upcoming event, visit the Nature Abounds website.

Susquehanna River Rally June 9 In Harrisburg To Highlight Environmental Budget Issues

The Choose Clean Water Coalition and other partners will hold the 2nd Annual Susquehanna River Rally on June 9 in Harrisburg to call attention to environmental budget issues from 1:00 to 3:30 on City Island.
Heading into budget negotiations, Pennsylvania’s waterways need a strong, unified voice to speak up and remind state legislators that the core funding supporting our state resource agencies’ clean water programs cannot afford cuts.
Now is the time to invest more in Pennsylvania’s waterways, not less.
In Pennsylvania, we have world class trout streams, thrilling white water, and tranquil creeks that provide respite, recreation, and wonderful memories for so many of us. Yet, our waterways and drinking water are severely threatened.
19,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s waterways are classified as unfit for fishing, swimming, safe play for children and pets, and in many cases for sustaining life of native aquatic species.
With failing infrastructure, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation – behind Texas and Florida- for most reported drinking water safety violations. This is unacceptable.
Join the Susquehanna River Rally to raise your voice, your rally signs, and your paddles high with the Pennsylvania Capitol as our backdrop to hold our legislature accountable to addressing our clean water crisis.
We will celebrate the mighty Susquehanna River and leverage its location and abundance to remind our legislators that clean water in Pennsylvania must be a priority.
Click Here to watch highlights from last year’s River Rally.
For more information and to register, visit the Susquehanna River Rally webpage.

PA Highlands Coalition Multi-Functional Riparian Buffer Webinar June 12

The PA Highlands Coalition will host a webinar June 12 on Multi-Functional Riparian Buffers from 10:30 to Noon.
Multi-functional riparian buffers provide opportunities for harvesting products such as berries, woody florals, and nuts in the riparian zone. By combining agroforestry and water protection strategies, these buffers allow for a collaborative solution to water quality and land management questions.
Join DCNR's Agroforesty Coordinator Tracey Coulter and Austin Unruh of Crow and Berry Land Management as they discuss the recent DCNR grants for multi-functional riparian buffers and the realities of utilizing these tools on the ground.
Click Here to register. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
For more information on riparian buffers, visit DCNR’s Forest Buffers webpage.
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