GenOn Energy will pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Penn Environment and the Sierra Club for more than 8,000 violations of the Clean Water Act at its coal-fired power plant on the Conemaugh River near Johnstown. All violations (including excess iron, aluminum, manganese, selenium and boron) must cease by February. There will be automatic penalties for any future violations. The federal government will get $250,000, and the Foundation for Pennsylvania's Watersheds will use $3.5 million to restore the Conemaugh watershed. GenOn will also pay over $1 million for the plaintiffs' legal costs accrued during the four-year litigation. GenOn is based in Houston, Texas and has about 45 power plants in the U.S.
Josh Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center says the settlement comes after U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell ruled against the company in March and set a trial date for June 1st to determine the penalty. Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection had a side agreement with GenOn since 2004 allowing the company to postpone compliance with the law, but Judge Mitchell did not excuse the violations. Kratka says such side agreements are not unusual in the state or in the rest of the country. The environmental groups hope this largest penalty ever in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the country will send a message that pollution doesn't pay.
Kratka says the technology that could have prevented the illegal discharges into the river has been available for years, and GenOn has been able to postpone the installation expense until now.
The settlement goes to Judge Mitchell and the EPA for final approval.