Tuesday 23 April 2019

Conowingo Dam (18)

The Conowingo Dam is owned and operated by Exelon Generation Company, LLC and its current license expired in 2014. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the State of Maryland must issue a Water Quality Certification, certifying that the project will meet state water quality standards before FERC can grant a new license.

The State of Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27, 2018, and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. On July 20, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene in a federal court action regarding the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

In addition, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association filed an administrative appeal on June 8, 2018, urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to reconsider its recent water quality certification for the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation. Exelon has requested a new 50-year federal license to operate the dam, and, in order to receive that license, the State of Maryland must certify that the dam’s operations will not adversely impact water quality under the Clean Water Act.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake has been working with Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and Earthjustice since 2014 to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the dam cleanup.

“This is our only opportunity in the next 50 years to get meaningful pollution reductions at Conowingo Dam – we have to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the cleanup,” -- Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director. 

About the Conowingo Dam

Conowingo Dam is a hydroelectric dam that has been trapping sediment from the Susquehanna River, blocking fish passage, and affecting the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay since it was built in 1928. Nearly 200 million tons of sediment pollution have accumulated behind the dam. During major floods caused by large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. More info at http://www.conowingodam.org


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On July 20, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene in a federal court action regarding the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam. The dam is owned and operated by Exelon Generation Company, LLC and its current license expired in 2014. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the State of Maryland must issue a Water Quality Certification, certifying that the project will meet state water quality standards before FERC can grant a new license. The State of Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27 and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed to intervene in this case, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act. “The Water Quality Certification for Conowingo Dam is critical for not only the Susquehanna River, but for the entire Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Exelon is seeking to disarm the State of one of its key tools to protect water quality in this relicensing process. While we feel that Maryland’s certification is missing some key elements, we absolutely support states’ authority to protect water quality and require power companies to reduce pollution from the operation of their dams. In its lawsuit, Exelon is essentially seeking to dodge the Clean Water Act and shirk its…

Exelon Made a Bad Choice

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,…
Appeal says certification fails to recognize potential harm to the Chesapeake Bay from sediment stored behind the dam (Baltimore, Md.) – Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association filed an administrative appeal on June 8, 2018, urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to reconsider its recent water quality certification for the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation. Exelon has requested a new 50-year federal license to operate the dam, and, in order to receive that license, the State of Maryland must certify that the dam’s operations will not adversely impact water quality under the Clean Water Act. “This is one of the most important decisions in the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 independent waterkeeper organizations. “We shouldn’t be approving a 50-year license without a solid, accountable plan for removing sediment from behind the dam.” The Conowingo Dam was completed in 1928 and, since that time, it has been trapping sediment and nutrient pollution from the Susquehanna River and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area. Sediment is one of the three key pollutants, along with nitrogen and phosphorus, that is regulated under the federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, known as the TMDL. Scientists have concluded that the reservoir behind the dam is now at capacity and cannot trap any more sediment. After large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the…

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