Monday, March 16, 2009

Allegheny Energy in Battle Over Water Discharges

Cleaning the air shouldn't come at the expense of clean water, says an environmental law firm. Earthjustice is trying to stop Allegheny Energy from discharging pollutants into the Monongahela River at levels higher than those approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Allegheny Energy is installing scrubbers at its Hatfield's Ferry plant in Greene County to reduce air pollution. But using those scrubbers creates a sludge. Allegheny Energy says it plans to treat the sludge, but the levels of pollutants it would discharge into the river would still surpass limits set by the DEP.

Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen says other plants around the country have installed "zero discharge" systems, and Allegheny Energy should do the same. Otherwise, she says levels of harmful toxins like mercury, cadmium and lead will increase in a waterway that serves as a drinking water source for thousands of people.

Allegheny Energy spokesman David Neurohr says the utility can't build a zero discharge system in time to meet newer state and federal air pollution regulations. He also says the water discharge levels the utility sought in its permit were "traditional" for an industrial facility on the Mon. Neurohr suspects that the DEP imposed stricter limits because that section of the river had lower-than-normal flows last fall, resulting in pollutant levels that were higher than usual. Normal flow levels have since returned.

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