The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 28, 2010

Judge reinstates suit against power plant

— An environmental lawsuit against an Indiana County power plant was reinstated after a federal judge on Tuesday reversed her dismissal of the case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay ruled that a suit filed by PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club against the operator of Conemaugh Generating Station can proceed because there was a legal error in her December dismissal.

Environmental advocates claim the New Florence-area plant, run by Houston-based RRI Energy Inc., is fouling the Conemaugh River with illegally high levels of metals.

“RRI has been running roughshod over our environmental laws for far too long,” PennEnvironment Director David Masur said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“We greatly appreciate Judge Hay’s willingness to revisit her original decision, and now we can focus again on the real issue, which is getting RRI to comply with the law.”

An RRI spokeswoman, Laurie Fickman, said the company needed to review the judge’s decision before commenting.

Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment filed the suit in April 2007, alleging that the plant had been violating the Clean Water Act on a regular basis.

On Tuesday, PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club reiterated their contention that the plant “discharges more than 3 million gallons of wastewater per day containing selenium, manganese, aluminum, boron, and iron in concentrations that frequently exceed the limits that were set by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to protect water quality in the Conemaugh River.”

In 2007, plant administrators did not deny the discharges but said they were using “the best available technology for removing these substances from the wastewater discharged into the river.”

And the state DEP had said it was delaying enforcement against the plant until 2011, with a spokeswoman saying the water discharges were an industrywide problem caused by “scrubbers” that had been installed to limit air emissions.

But PennEnvironment officials say any deal between state regulators and RRI does not prevent them from suing to enforce the plant’s operating permit.

Hay, based in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, threw out the suit Dec. 22.

The two environmental groups, represented by the National Environmental Law Center, asked the judge to reconsider.

Hay’s Tuesday decision resulted from that appeal. She noted that her earlier dismissal was “clearly wrong” and that “it would be unjust to adhere to that opinion and preclude plaintiffs from pursuing their case.”


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