MD threatens lawsuits over coal ash pollution
The Maryland Department of the Environment has formally threatened to sue the operator of three coal-fired power plants in the state for allegedly polluting ground and surface water with coal ash it's dumping in two unlined landfills.
MDE issued notices of intent to sue Mirant Mid-Atlantic, LLC and Mirant Maryland Ash Management, LLC in federal court over ash disposal at Westland or Dickerson in Montgomery County and Faulkner in Charles County.
The action comes after a federal lawsuit filed by the state last year against Mirant over ash disposal at a third landfill in Brandywine in Prince George's County. The agency also has a pending lawsuit in state court over the Faulkner ash landfill, but said in a news release it now plans to consolidate all the cases in federal court.
The state contends that the company continues to dump its coal combustion byproducts in unlined landfills, despite 2008 state regulations requiring liners for ash disposal facilities. State officcials said toxic substances in the ash are leaching into ground water and nearby surface waters, though they add that levels of contamination so far seem to pose no health risk to nearby residents.
Atlanta-based Mirant merged last year with GenOn Energy, a Houston power company. Spokeswoman Misty Allen emailed that the company disagrees with MDE's interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act and would litigate the matter if the state does file suit. GenOn has proposed a new ash recycling plant in Charles County to replace its landfills, though regulators have yet to approve it.
In a related devleopment, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that a pair of environmental groups and several individual residents lack legal standing to join in MDE's lawsuit in Charles County Circuit Court alleging ash pollution from the Faulkner landfill. The Potomac Riverkeeper and the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project had petitioned to join the lawsuit, which the state now proposes to transfer to federal court.
"Standing" has been a chronic bone of contention in Maryland, with activists complaining of a double standard. Businesses are able to challenge state laws and regulations in court, but citizens and groups are frequently rebuffed when they go to court complaining the state is lax in its oversight of polluters. While the federal Clean Water Act does allow for citizens to go file suits on their own to enforce it, state law tends to reserve that policing role for state government. To read the opinion, go here.
(Truck dumps coal ash in Faulkner, Charles County. 2007 Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)