Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bay Journal: Brunner Island Power Plant In York County To Stop Coal Ash Pollution, Pay $1 Million Fine To DEP

By Ad Crable, Chesapeake Bay Journal

In a consent decree with four environmental groups, a large central Pennsylvania power plant has agreed to stop tainted water in its coal ash disposal sites from leaking into the Susquehanna River.
The Brunner Island Generating Station, located on the Susquehanna just south of Harrisburg, has agreed to close and excavate one of its active but leaking coal ash landfills and address leaks at seven other sites.
The plant also will be fined $1 million by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to the consent decree to be filed today [July 31] in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. 
The fine is the largest ever involving coal ash disposal in Pennsylvania.
The consent decree involves Brunner Island owner Talen Energy and the environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, PennEnvironment and the Waterkeeper Alliance.
A consent decree is a legal agreement that solves a dispute between two parties without the accused party admitting guilt.
For 58 years, Brunner Island has burned coal to generate enough electricity to continuously power 1 million homes. 
Beginning in 2016, the plant began producing some power with natural gas. 
As part of another lawsuit and consent decree in 2018 with The Sierra Club, which had alleged air and water pollution, the plant is to phase out coal power by the end of 2028.
The legacy of toxic coal ash stored around the plant is the basis for the latest litigation. Coal ash includes fly ash and bottom ash left over from burning coal, boiler slag and flue gas materials.
The environmental groups contend that 367 acres of coal ash storage sites have leaked arsenic, boron, lithium, chlorine, phosphorus and suspended solids into the Susquehanna and two of its tributaries for at least the last five years-- a problem they say threatens fish and aquatic species and puts kayakers, anglers, birdwatchers and local business owners at risk. 
The landfills cited as problems include six closed but unlined pits, one active unlined pit and one active lined pit.
The landfills are often saturated with water, and toxic material escapes through springs and seeps and overflows, according to the groups’ lawsuit, which was filed simultaneously with the consent decree. 
Brunner Island is currently placing 442,000 tons of coal-burning waste into the landfills annually, according to documents filed by the groups.
The groups criticized the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not prosecuting Brunner Island and correcting the leaks, which they say violate the federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law. 
The DEP renewed Brunner Island’s discharge permit in 2018.
[From StateImpact PA: The company will also contribute $100,000 to a fund supporting projects to “reduce or mitigate the effects of water pollution in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.”]
“The projects funded by this settlement will help ensure we are leaving the Lower Susquehanna River in better shape for future generations,” said Ted Evgeniadis, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “And those of us who enjoy the Lower Susquehanna River can rest easier tonight knowing that concrete measures and timelines are in place to reduce toxic pollution in the river.”
Mary Greene of the Environmental Integrity Project said Talen Energy deserves credit “for stepping up to the plate and agreeing to measures that should significantly reduce pollution.”
The Brunner Island plant has been long-criticized for generating air pollution, fined for fish kills and lambasted for closing fishing areas once open to the public.
(Photo: Brunner Island coal ash disposal areas, Environmental Integrity Project.)
(Reprinted from the Chesapeake Bay Journal.)
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