Cit­i­zens chal­lenge state agency’s coal plant per­mit

Say Aquasco facility foul­ing Patux­ent from up­stream

The Enterprise - - News - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

Nearly 30 peo­ple gath­ered to ex­press con­cern over a pro­posed dis­charge per­mit for NRG Chalk Point Gen­er­a­tion Sta­tion in Aquasco dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing on Thurs­day.

The hear­ing at Calvert Li­brary Fairview Branch was the last of three the Mary­land De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment hosted to give peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to en­ter com­ments on the official record re­gard­ing its ten­ta­tive de­ter­mi­na­tion to re-issue a per­mit for the elec­tric­ity gen­er­at­ing plant to dis­charge 542 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter into the Patux­ent River, im­pact­ing Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s coun­ties.

“The Chalk Point plant is one of the large pol­luters of wa­ter in the state,” said Lila West, co-chair of the South­ern Mary­land Sierra Club, de­mand­ing the Na­tional Pol­lu­tion Dis­charge Elim­i­na­tion Sys­tem per­mit for the plant be the strong­est and most pro­tec­tive fi­nal per­mit.

The plant con­sists of coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas units. Ac­cord­ing to MDE, its dis­charge con­sists of non-con­tact cool­ing wa­ter, flue gas desul­fu­r­iza­tion waste­water (treated waste­water from the re­moval of sul­fur diox­ide from the ex­haust of flue gas), treated san­i­tary waste­water, miscellaneous other waste­water and stormwa­ter.

Great Mills res­i­dent Rosa Hance said the wa­ter in the Patux­ent River is dis­gust­ing. The cul­prit, she said, is heavy met­als that bond to par­ti­cles and be­come part of the wa­ter cy­cle in­stead of stay­ing where they are placed. Hance said the prob­lem has a “to­tally pre­ventable so­lu­tion” be­cause the tech­nol­ogy ex­ists and is af­ford­able.

Jonathan Rice, MDE reg­u­la­tory and com­pli­ance engi­neer and per­mit writer for the Chalk Point project, said the de­part­ment pro­poses to re-issue the per­mit with some lim­i­ta­tions in­volv­ing the amount of dis­charge of chlorine, oil and grease, to­tal sus­pended solids, the dis­charge of heated wa­ter and more.

Both Cindy and Bill Piel of Dunkirk com­plained about the lack of pub­lic no­tice for the meet­ing, and that no­tice pub­lished in a news­pa­per out­side of South­ern Mary­land was not suf­fi­cient. The Piels were con­cerned with the de­vel­op­ment of car­cino­gens from the dis­charge buildup, de­fi­cien­cies in the per­mit doc­u­men­ta­tion, the need for mon­i­tor­ing the dis­charge and the need for tighter reg­u­la­tions.

Pa­trick Grenter, a se­nior cam­paign rep­re­sen­ta­tive with the na­tional Sierra Club, later con­curred and said this re­cent round of hear­ings is the first chance the pub­lic has had to weigh in on Chalk Point’s “wa­ter pol­lu­tion prob­lems” in eight years, since the last per­mit was is­sued in 2009.

“It is prob­lem­atic that the MDE has al­lowed this facility to op­er­ate with a per­mit that has been ex­pired for three years, with out­dated per­mit con­trols and stan­dards,” said Grenter.

Chalk Point gen­eral man­ager Greg Stag­gers, NRG en­vi­ron­men­tal direc­tor for the Mary­land re­gion David Cramer and se­nior en­vi­ron­men­tal engi­neer Ann Wear­mouth were at the hear­ing to lis­ten to cit­i­zens’ con­cerns, but de­clined to pub­licly ad­dress them.

NRG spokesper­son David Gaier said the per­mit is not ex­pired and the plant sub­mit­ted a re­newal ap­pli­ca­tion on time in 2013, be­fore the ex­ist­ing per­mit had ex­pired. MDE granted an ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­ten­sion to the per­mit un­til a new one can be is- sued, Gaier said.

MDE spokesper­son Jay Ap­per­son said the per­mit’s pro­vi­sions were based on the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s ef­flu­ent lim­i­ta­tion guide­lines in place at the time the per­mit was is­sued in 2009.

The draft re­newal per­mit in­cludes lan­guage to ad­dress an up­date to the EPA guide­lines.

Ef­flu­ent lim­i­ta­tion guide­lines are na­tional stan­dards for waste­water dis­charge to surface waters. To ad­dress changes in the power plant in­dus­try, tech­nol­ogy-based guide­lines were es­tab­lished in 2015 dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, set­ting the first fed­eral lim­its on toxic metal lev­els in waste­water.

The guide­lines were pro­jected to re­duce the amount of pol­lu­tants that come from elec­tric power plants by 1.4 bil­lion pounds and re­duce wa­ter with­drawal by 57 bil­lion gal­lons.

Each plant was to com­ply with the rule be­tween 2018 and 2023 de­pend­ing on when the plant needs a new Na­tional Pol­lu­tion Dis­charge Elim­i­na­tion Sys­tem per­mit, per the Clean Wa­ter Act. How­ever, last month the EPA post­poned the ef­flu­ent guide­lines for two years.

Grenter said per the rule’s roll­back, MDE needs to es­tab­lish a com­pli­ance dead­line in the per­mits of no later than Nov. 1, 2020, for flue gas desul­fu­r­iza­tion waste­water and bot­tom ash trans­port wa­ter, and that meet­ing the guide­lines is crit­i­cal, as dis­charge mon­i­tor­ing data shows Chalk Point rou­tinely ex­ceeds even the lax­est dis­charge lim­its for ar­senic and se­le­nium.

“We found that the plant vi­o­lated the most lax stan­dards for ar­senic 67 times, some­times by a fac­tor as much as eight times the limit … they also vi­o­lated the stan­dard for se­le­nium 80 times, some­times by a fac­tor as high as 30. Thirty times — there is a real pol­lu­tion prob­lem here that needs to get ad­dressed,” Grenter said.

“Chalk Point is not ‘dump­ing’ any­thing into the river.

Chalk Point is dis­charg­ing wa­ter treated by its state-of-the-art treat­ment sys­tems, and that meets all its strin­gent per­mit re­quire­ments. The wa­ter con­tains trace amounts of met­als and nu­tri­ents,” Gaier said.

Linda Morin of Lusby asked why there are coal plants in Mary­land oper­at­ing from tech­nol­ogy-based pro­tec­tions from 1982 and why they don’t have to fol­low the “lat­est and great­est” re­quire­ments and best avail­able tech­nolo­gies.

NRG’s spokesman said when the dis­charge treat­ment sys­tem was in­stalled in 2009, it was in fact the “best tech­nol­ogy avail­able” and the plant has in­vested sig­nif­i­cantly in im­prov­ing the sys­tem since then and that the wa­ter dis­charge re­sults from a flue gas desul­fu­r­iza­tion sys­tem, which dra­mat­i­cally im­proves the plant’s air emis­sions, as re­quired by MDE.

“The plant will make all ad­di­tional tech­nol­ogy im­prove­ments as re­quired in any up­dated per­mit,” Gaier said. “The com­pany com­plies, and will al­ways com­ply with all ap­pli­ca­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, reg­u­la­tions, and per­mit re­quire­ments from MDE and all other rel­e­vant reg­u­la­tory agen­cies.”

Michael Richard­son, chief of the In­dus­trial and Gen­eral Per­mits Divi­sion of MDE’s Wa­ter Man­age­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the de­part­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity would be to respond to any sub­stan­tive com­ments pro­vided dur­ing the hear­ing or in writ­ing by close of busi­ness this Friday, Oct. 6, and to issue a fi­nan­cial de­ter­mi­na­tion in re­sponse to those com­ments.

STAFF PHOTO BY TA­MARA WARD

Sierra Club mem­bers from South­ern Mary­land and the na­tional chap­ter as well as other res­i­dents from Calvert and St. Mary’s coun­ties came out Thurs­day in op­po­si­tion to a Mary­land De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment draft per­mit for NRG Chalk Point Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion’s waste­water dis­charge in the Patux­ent River.

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