Brunner Island power plant owners agree to $1M penalty, largest ever assessed in PA for coal ash pollution

HARRISBURG, -- Talen Energy, owner of the Brunner Island Generating Station in York Haven, will pay a $1 million penalty, the largest ever in Pennsylvania for coal and ash pollution under an agreement with environmental groups.

Additionally, Talen will close and excavate one ash pond, monitor and address leakage of pollutants from other waste sites and contribute an additional $100,000 to fund supplemental projects to reduce local water pollution, according to the agreement.

"Today’s agreement will reduce the impact of toxic coal ash pollution on ground and surface waters, better control the plant’s wastewater discharges, ensure discharge of heated water is protective of aquatic life, and improve water quality for the Lower Susquehanna River and its tributaries," said Lisa Hallowell, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

The Environmental Integrity Project represented the four groups: Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, Waterkeeper Alliance, and PennEnvironment.  They sent Talen Energy notice of intent to sue in August of  2018. They accused Talen Energy off violating the Clean Water Act, which triggered the involvement of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to reach today’s settlement agreement.

The settlement resolves all claims by PADEP against Brunner Island, as well as all claims by EIP in its August 2018 Notice of Intent to Sue.  It also resolves EIP’s appeal of the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit renewal issued by PADEP in August 2018.

The Brunner Island coal-fired power plant, which opened in 1961, creates 442,000 tons of ash and other coal combustion wastes annually, according to a press release from the Environmental Integrity Project.

For years, the company has disposed of coal ash waste in seven unlined ponds and a lined landfill that cover a combined 367 acres on an island bordered on the east the Susquehanna River and on the west by tributaries called Black Gut Creek and by Conewago Creek, according to the filing.

Because most of the ash sites are often saturated with groundwater and lack liners to prevent leakage, pollutants – including arsenic (a carcinogen), boron (which can cause nausea and vomiting), and lithium have been seeping into groundwater, the Susquehanna River, and Black Gut Creek, according to the groups’ August 2018 notice.

Six of the plant’s waste sites are now closed. However, the power company continues to dispose of ash in its lined landfill (which has also been leaking) and in an unlined ash pond called Ash Basin 6.

The consent decree requires Talen Energy to close Ash Basin 6 by June 1, 2019, and excavate all waste from the site by December 31, 2031. Talen must also submit a plan to Pennsylvania regulators that ensures the landfill’s liner and leachate collection system is working and that any leakage is directed to the plant’s wastewater plant and properly treated so that it complies with  permitted pollution limits.

"We are going to have a healthier, cleaner river free from toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic which causes cancer (and) birth defects," said Ted Evgeniadis, of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper's Association.

He added, "The good news is now with this settlement and them cleaning up their coal ash, fisherman and others will be more inclined to go out, catch a fish, take it home and east it knowing that toxic chemicals are out of our water."

Talen Energy issued a statement as well.

"We are pleased to have reached agreement and appreciate the hard work and collaborative efforts of PADEP, EIP and all stakeholders to resolve this matter. Talen is committed to complying with all environmental regulations and will continue to focus on the safe, efficient and reliable operation of our plants,” said Debra Raggio, Senior Vice President Regulatory & External Affairs Counsel.

As part of the settlement, Brunner Island agrees to investigate and abate groundwater conditions in specific areas around certain ash basins, as well as committing to a shorter timeframe for the previously-planned closure of the last operating ash basin on site.

"In this settlement, Talen is addressing inherited legacy issues at these ash basins as we continue efforts to reduce Brunner Island’s environmental footprint by utilizing natural gas and phasing out coal," Raggio said. "We will continue to work proactively with PADEP to maintain compliance with our permits."

To view the consent decree being filed today in federal court, click here.

To view the lawsuit filed along with the consent decree, click here.

Sources: Environmental Integrity Project press release, Talen Energy release

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