Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Pennsylvania Riverkeeper Wants to Punish Exelon Over Conowingo Dam

Ted Evgeniadis,  Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper: Maryland must demand more of Exelon to address Conowingo sediment problems
On January 31, 2014, Exelon submitted to MDE an application for a water quality certification. That application included copies of the resource studies that had been completed as part of the FERC relicensing process. However, the studies were insufficient for MDE to make conclusions and impose conditions for the protection of water quality. MDE requested for more studies specifically on Sediment Transport in the Lower River and Upper Chesapeake Bay. At this point, Exelon withdrew and resubmitted its application multiple times due to their inability to produce the required studies the state of Maryland needed to issue the certification.

Furthermore, recent case law states that one year means one year for a state to issue a 401 water quality certification, in that a withdrawal and resubmission does not constitute a new application request. Unfortunately, Exelon used this court decision and petitioned FERC pleading that MDE waived their right to the 401 certification issued in May 2018. By petitioning FERC, Exelon instilled fear through the ranks at MDE and coerced them behind closed doors, without public input, to enter into a grossly insufficient relicensing settlement agreement which falls short of protecting Maryland’s waterways.

It is not acceptable to have a state waive its enforcement authority based on a payment of money that provides no assurance of water quality improvement. Additionally, the public and interested parties like our organization and Waterkeepers Chesapeake must have input into what will happen to the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay over the next 50 years. As it is now, virtually all of the substantive portions of the settlement will not be incorporated into the 50 year federal license agreement – which means there is no public input, scrutiny and, more importantly, no ability to enforce these provisions.

The settlement agreement provides insufficient funds to deal with the risks that Conowingo operations pose to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, specifically sediment and nutrients. It includes statements of intent without assurances that the initiatives and actions under the agreement will actually be fulfilled by Exelon. There is no enforcement power for the public to make sure the terms of the settlement are fulfilled in a sufficient manner. It requires payments made by Exelon to go to the State’s Clean Water Fund, which can be reallocated or raided by the Governor at any time over the next 50 years. Also, it does not mention any appropriation of funding for upstream water quality improvements to combat sediment and nutrient load to the dam’s reservoir

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. Therefore, MDE and Governor Hogan should increase their funding ask from Exelon before fully signing off on the agreement, or nix the agreement entirely and continue pursuing the more protective Water Quality Certification. The settlement should specifically include more funding for the Sediment Disposal Study and Resiliency Initiatives mentioned. The State should also build realistic assurances into the agreement that the terms will be fulfilled, not just statements of intent.

A large storm like Hurricane Agnes has a 40% chance of happening over the license term with that probability increasing with climate change. A storm of that magnitude will scour out millions of tons of harmful sediment that the dam has collected, and then deliver it downstream where it will smother submerged aquatic vegetation, fish habitat, oyster beds and inevitably create large "deadzones" in the Bay. This is the single largest threat to the Chesapeake Bay and Exelon is choosing to ignore the facts and claim their dam does not implicate water quality. It may be another state’s silt coming downstream but that dam has blocked it and its reservoir is now full.

It's understood we all need power and the dam will continue to stand upright, so let's make sure this proposed settlement gets revised to reflect true and accurate measures Exelon must take in order to protect aquatic species, fish migration, water quality now and for the future, while producing and selling power at a fair rate of return that does not monopolize this public resource’s intrinsic value. We urge the congressional delegation of PA and MD to contact the Hogan Administration and MDE and demand more for the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. We ask the public and other environmental groups to participate in our action alert and sign our petition found here https://bit.ly/2FpBUK4 . This settlement agreement will set national precedence in hydropower relicensing so it’s critical that Exelon is held accountable over the license term and pays its fair share to protect the river and Bay for the next 50 years.
The Conowingo Dam, which protected the Chesapeake Bay from sediments running down the Susquehanna River for most of a century, was purchased by Exelon long after it was built. I still fail to see why that is Exelon's fault that the dam is no longer protecting the Bay.

If I were Exelon, I'd threaten to give it back to the state.

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