This story was corrected and updated at 6:55 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Maryland hopes to settle with the operator of a coal power plant in Dickerson that it sued for polluting local waterways.
The Maryland Department of the Environment sued Delaware-based GenOn Mid-Atlantic and GenOn Chalk Point in U.S. District Court in June, claiming the Dickerson Electric Generating Station and Chalk Point Electric Generating Station in Prince George’s County pumped higher-than-allowed levels of chemicals into local bodies of water.
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said the parties in the case asked the court to put the case on hold for 120 days as they attempt to settle.
On Aug. 28, Judge Marvin J. Garbis ordered a stay in the case, according to case documents published Wednesday.
The state is seeking monetary penalties and for the court to require GenOn — which was bought on Dec. 14, 2012 by NRG Energy Inc. — to stop what it says in its June 11 complaint are “ongoing violations of state and federal water pollution laws.”
It is asking the court charge the company a civil penalty of up to $37,500 per violation per day for violations of the federal Clean Water Act beginning Jan. 13, 2009, and $32,500 for violations that occurred earlier. It also is asking the court charge a $10,000-per-violation-per-day penalty for violations under the state law.
MDE claims the company violated the laws by releasing too much nitrogen and phosphorus into local bodies of water. Under the federal Clean Water Act, point source facilities, like the two plants, operate with permits that cap how much pollution it can discharge.
Dickerson is capped at 511 pounds of nitrogen pollution per year, Chalk Point at 329 pounds, according to the complaint.
Yet in the past four years, both plants have pumped more nitrogen than permitted into local waterways, exceeding the caps by thousands of pounds of pollution, the complaint said.
In 2011, the Dickerson plant also pumped too much phosphorus into the water, according to the complaint.
NRG East Region and NRG Thermal spokesman David Gaier contrasted the plants’ pollution with municipal wastewater plants that are permitted to release much more nitrogen — 4.4 million pounds per year. Gaier said NRG is limited each year roughly to what a municipal wastewater plant can discharge in an hour.
“The fact is that we’ve discharged considerably less Nitrogen into the water over time — and our current negotiations with the state deal with the Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) technologies we’re able to use at a facility like ours, and what the correct baseline numbers are,” Gaier wrote. “Both the NRG Chalk Point and Dickerson plants are considered ‘minor’ sources of Nitrogen by the State of Maryland, and our Morgantown plant’s systems actually discharge less nitrogen than they take in.”
The pollutants largely responsible for problems with the Chesapeake Bay are nitrogen and phosphorus, and sediment, according to MDE.
Apperson said those nutrients promote algae blooms that die off and take with them oxygen needed by the bay’s aquatic life, creating dead zones.
“Nutrient pollution is at heart of efforts to restore the bay and local waterways,” Apperson said.
Apperson said environmental interest groups who intended to sue the company for the same pollution also have joined the case.
In January, Food & Water Watch, Potomac Riverkeeper and Patuxent Riverkeeper — represented by Public Justice and the Columbia University School of Law Environmental Law Clinic — filed an intent to sue NRG Energy Inc. for federal Clean Water Act violations at the Dickerson and Chalk Point plants as well as a plant in Charles County, according to a joint news release.
The state’s June case comes on the heels of a May settlement with GenOn in a case against its disposal of “coal combustion byproducts” at plants in Montgomery and Charles counties. Unlined pits for disposing of coal waste allowed toxic pollutants to leach into groundwater and streams from the sites, according MDE.
The settlement requires GenOn to pay fines and abate contamination of ground and surface water.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified David Gaier as a spokesman for GenOn and misidentified the technologies being negotiated by the parties. It also has been updated to reflect the sale of GenOn to NRG Energy Inc. and the latest status of the court case.