Exelon's challenge of the 401 Water Quality Certification is unfortunate, but not unexpected. From the start of the dam relicensing process back in 2012, Exelon has demonstrated that they would rather pay lawyers to fight to avoid responsibility, rather than investing in protect the nation's largest estuary -- the Chesapeake Bay. Throughout this process, the State of Maryland, and other federal parties, have had to continually push Exelon to provide even the most basic of information on environmental studies and impacts of dam operations, which are essential to making informed decisions about water quality conditions for the 50-year dam operating license.
Exelon has profited billions from this public resource and has a guaranteed profit as long as the Susquehanna River flows for the next 50 years. President Teddy Roosevelt fought for decades to create the Federal Power Act (1919) so that corporations profiting from a public resource were required to provide public benefits. Cleaning up the Bay is an agreed upon bipartisan goal that benefits millions of people in the region. Under the Federal Power Act, we the citizens are providing an exclusive right for a for-profit corporation to have exclusive use of a public river - the Susquehanna - for power generation. In order for this exclusive license to be granted, Exelon must meet a significant burden, including showing the impacted state, here Maryland, that all impacts to state water quality will be addressed through conditions on this license. The sediment that has been building up behind the dam, and the threat it poses to the watershed downstream is the single largest impact associated with the dam. This simply must be properly addressed before this license can be issued.
In its court filings, Exelon complains that having to address these impacts is an "unfair burden." This approach ignores that millions of dollars contributed to the clean up effort by the Chesapeake States and Federal Government, and suggests that Exelon, alone, is being held responsible. This simply isn't true. And, Exelon's delay of this process to date, by failing to provide timely information, and now challenging the state's certification, will continue to push off implementation of best management practices to address sediment and nutrient pollution that is passing through the dam and harming downstream water quality and fisheries.
This shouldn't be a choice of either the dam and hydroelectric power or water quality and fisheries. That is why we need strong conditions in the license. With strong protection for downstream populations, Exelon can continue to operate the dam, generate power and make money, while the crabs, shellfish, people and drinking water downstream are also protected from harm. Exelon had an opportunity to be a leader in the region and protect the critical resource that provides them with their business; instead they chose to fight and put the burden on everyone else. They made a bad choice.
More info: Exelon sues MD, calls Conowingo requirements an ‘unfair burden’, July 9, 2018, Bay Journal