Press Statement: FERC Approves Flawed Conowingo Settlement Agreement

(Takoma Park, MD) – Clean water advocates and watermen are deeply dismayed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Exelon Corporation’s Conowingo relicensing for the next 50 years. This license will include the extremely flawed 2019 settlement agreement between the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Exelon, owner of the dam. In the agreement, the State of Maryland waives its authority under the Clean Water Act to require a Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of Conowingo Dam.

“We strongly condemn this decision, as this settlement not only provides grossly insufficient funds to deal with the risks that Conowingo operations pose to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, but also lacks concrete assurances that the actions under the agreement will actually be fulfilled by Exelon,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The Susquehanna River is a public resource and should not be sold off to a private company for exclusive use without ensuring that the impacts to the public have been properly mitigated. We will be considering all legal options to ensure protection of the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay for the next 50 years.”

This decision leaves Bay state taxpayers responsible for paying for the dam cleanup instead of requiring Exelon to pay its fair share. The Water Quality Certification that MDE issued in 2018 required $172 million per year just to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The actual cost of meaningfully reducing the 200 million tons of nutrients and sediment behind the dam was estimated to be between $53 – $300 million per year in the recent Conowingo Dam Watershed Implementation Plan.

“This is just another example of corporate welfare where taxpayers bear the burden of cleaning up after corporations,” added Nicholas. “Further, if Exelon were simply to reduce by 50% the bonuses, not salaries, paid to their top six employees, that alone would generate more than 10 times what they will be paying in this license for the next 50 years.”

In this settlement and license issuance that FERC approved today, Exelon is only responsible for paying less than one percent of what was required under the 401 certification.

“A river’s function is to transport sediment, that’s simple science,” said Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “When there is a 98-foot-tall structure working to trap an enormous amount of nutrients and sediment — essentially a ticking time bomb — the next large storm will deliver that pollution at exacerbated rates downstream, causing algal blooms and habitat loss that kill aquatic species essential to Maryland’s seafood economy and impact drinking water sources. This relicensing agreement tragically fails to address the dangers the dam presents to water quality and to our livelihoods.”

FERC’s decision will have profound impacts in Maryland and across the country. Exelon could be given a 50-year license to operate the Conowingo Dam without having to comply with the nutrient and sediment reductions called for by MDE. Additionally, there will be confusion among the courts regarding the impact of withdrawing and re-submitting a request for Water Quality Certification.

Media Contact: Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, (202) 423-0504
Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, (609)-571-5278

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Waterkeepers Chesapeake fights for clean water and a healthy environment by supporting Waterkeepers throughout the Chesapeake and coastal regions as they protect their communities, rivers, and streams from pollution.

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is dedicated to improving the ecological health of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay. Current and future citizens of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed deserve high water quality, wise and sustainable use of all aquatic resources, and preservation of aesthetic value of our waterways. Improvement will come about through education, research, advocacy, and insistence upon compliance with the law.