Legal Action Against Power Plant Brings Largest Penalty Imposed in Pennsylvania

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis told this story live at Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s In Defense of Water event at Patagonia Old Town on October 6, 2021.

My name is Ted Evgeniadis. I serve as your Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and the Executive Director for the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association. I want to share with you an awesome victory we had just a couple years ago and it was right when I came on as Riverkeeper in 2017 and that was against Talen Energy and their Brunner Island steam electric generating facility in York County. This was a win against coal ash.

Coal combustion residuals greatly impact not just water quality but human health as well. Coal ash contains numerous hazardous chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, selenium, lead, mercury, chromium, boron, sulfates, a lot of nasty stuff. These pollutants can cause birth defects, cancer, issues with our nervous system especially in children, bad stuff.

The facility is located in York County, it’s been around since the 1960’s, and for years and years they’ve been dumping their coal ash contamination and all their residuals into unlined ash ponds. There are seven of them; one was still active, which is no longer active because of our efforts. In 2017, I went out on a snowy, mid-December morning and conducted water sampling along the creek which is adjacent to the coal ash dump site (their ponds) and results came back which revealed high levels of toxic pollutants such as arsenic which can only be explained from leakage at the ash basin. This is a violation of not only the Clean Water Act but also the Pennsylvania Clean Streams laws as well.

Environmental Integrity Project represented our organization, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Penn Environment, when in August of 2018 we issued a Notice of Intent to sue Talen Energy for these violations. Through settlement negotiations with Talen Energy and also with Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), we entered into a historic agreement to reduce toxic pollutants leaking from the plant’s coal dump sites into the river and obviously into the Bay. This consent decree – which was historic for the state of Pennsylvania — required Talen Energy to close and excavate one ash pond, monitor and address leakage of pollutants from other waste sites, pay a million dollar fine, and contribute an additional $100,000 to supplemental projects here in the county that are going to improve water quality on different tributaries.

It also requires Talen Energy to undertake significant and costly actions at multiple coal ash disposal areas including addressing seeps, evaluating local water quality, and ensuring that any discharge fully complies with the Clean Water Act. Amazing win for the state against coal ash. They also have to submit a plan to regulators to ensure that the landfills, liners, and leachate systems are working properly and making sure that any leakage is directed to the plant’s wastewater plant and properly treated.

Projects from this settlement are going to help ensure that we leave the Lower Susquehanna in better shape for future generations. It is the largest penalty ever imposed for coal ash in the state of Pennsylvania. It was great to work with DEP and other citizen groups to reach this settlement for the good of the Commonwealth.

I just want to close out by saying being involved in the Waterkeeper movement has been the most difficult but also the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’ve spilled blood, sweat, and tears for this river and you know through my work as the Riverkeeper and all the efforts all around me by my partners and those that are doing the work to improve the health of this river we get to see a cleaner Susquehanna now and for future generations and that’s what it’s all about. We all play a role in protecting our water and the environment, so I ask you — please call on your local Waterkeeper wherever you live, call them up, get involved, volunteer your time, donate some money, these are grassroots efforts to protect our water and it’s you guys that make it count and make it work for us so get out there and support them. I want to say thank you and check out all the work we’re doing.