On Monday, August 24, 2020, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) wrote to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting “immediate action” on its proposed settlement agreement with Exelon for the 50-year relicensing of Conowingo Dam. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper sent a letter to FERC arguing that in no event should FERC rush to approve the proposed settlement. Giving the proposed settlement a thorough and considered evaluation will not cause any of the harms that MDE’s letter describes. Indeed, unless it is significantly revised, the proposed settlement will defeat the very goals MDE claims to care about. It will virtually guarantee that Maryland never meets the Bay Cleanup Plan (TMDL) targets, and will jeopardize the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the livelihoods of the fishermen and watermen who earn a living on the Bay.
There is simply no way to meet the Bay Cleanup Plan’s targets – reductions of 25 percent, 24 percent and 20 percent respectively in nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment respectively – without substantially reducing the vast reservoir of these pollutants behind the Dam. The proposed settlement provides, at best, less than $30 million to address sediment and nutrient pollution over the entire 50-year license. The actual cost of meaningfully reducing the nutrients and sediment behind the dam has been estimated at approximately $41 million each year. By allowing Exelon to avoid paying its fair share of the costs of cleaning up the nutrient and sediment from the Dam it operates, the proposed settlement starves the Bay Cleanup Plan of funding and ensures its targets will not be met.
Given the proposed settlement’s many serious defects, we requested once again that FERC reject it so that the MDE, Exelon, and the other interested parties can negotiate a fair settlement that protects the Bay and the people who depend on it.