In 2013, Potomac Riverkeeper, Patuxent Riverkeeper and Food & Water Watch filed a notice of intent to sue to NRG. NRG operates coal powered generating stations at Chalk Point on the Patuxent River and at Dickerson on the Potomac River. One of our main concerns was that NRG tried to persuade the state to let it offset the nitrogen pollution from its plants with reductions made elsewhere. Pollution “trading” such as this can cause hot spot of pollution, usually in lower income communities, causing a serious environmental justice problem. Our action forced Maryland to get involved and file its own suit.
We’ve been a full party in the case, sitting across the table from NRG and Maryland state attorneys for the past three years hammering out this settlement. And it’s a good one — holding NRG to a tight schedule to eliminate its nutrient pollution, and setting up a $1 million environmental benefit fund to pay for river restoration projects.
The two plants began discharging impermissible levels of nitrogen into the rivers in 2010. The problem occurred after “scrubbers” were installed to comply with Maryland’s Healthy Air Act, which required emissions reductions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. The plants’ wastewater treatment facilities could not handle the additional waste from the scrubbers, resulting in excessive nitrogen discharges into the rivers.
Nitrogen is one of the primary pollutants causing water quality problems in the Bay and its tributaries. It feeds algae blooms, which decay and trigger the formation “dead zones” where fish and shellfish can’t get enough dissolved oxygen from the water.
This case is a great example of the critical role citizen enforcers like the Potomac and Patuxent Riverkeepers have in holding polluters accountable, and making sure government does its job. It also highlights that many of our legal actions can take years to resolve and are complicated to explain as they move through the courts.