GenOn has reportedly reached a settlement agreement with environmental groups PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club in a case that alleges the Houston-based company continuously violated its Clean Water Act discharge permit and discharged more than three million gallons of wastewater a day from its 1,700-MW coal-fired Conemaugh Generating Station in Western Pennsylvania into the Conemaugh River.

The groups, which sued GenOn in 2007 under the federal Clean Water Act’s citizen enforcement provision allege that the company has been discharging wastewater containing “elevated levels of selenium, manganese, aluminum, boron, and iron into the Conemaugh River.” Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had set the limits of GenOn’s permit to help “restore the river to health,” but “on occasion, the company has exceeded its permitted pollution limits by over 1,000%, or more than ten times allowable levels,” the groups said.

Under the settlement, GenOn Northeast Management Co. must pay a total of $3.75 million and act quickly to end discharge violations. The payment includes a $250,000 civil penalty and an additional $3.5 million to fund restoration and preservation projects in the Conemaugh River watershed . The agreement, in the form of a consent decree, was filed in federal court on Monday and has yet to be approved by a U.S. magistrate.

GenOn Northeast Management Company, a subsidiary of GenOn Energy, Inc., must pay a total of $3.75 million and must act quickly to end the discharge violations still occurring at the company’s coal-fired Conemaugh Generating Station located near Johnstown. 

In March, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell ruled that GenOn had committed 8,684 violations of the federal Clean Water Act by discharging illegal levels of five pollutants into the Conemaugh River since 2005.  “Under the terms of the consent decree filed in court today, GenOn has agreed to achieve compliance with its permit limits in a timely fashion and to pay heavy, automatic penalties for any future permit violations,” the environmental groups said. “In addition, GenOn must perform tests to gauge the toxicity of its wastewater discharges and provide that information to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.”

The groups hailed the Clean Water Act’s citizen enforcement provision, which “allows citizens to take legal action against chronic polluters when state and federal officials are unable—or unwilling—to protect water quality,” said Thomas Au, the Conservation Chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Sierra Club. 

GenOn’s 1971-built base-load Conemaugh Generating Station is one of the company’s 18 power plants in Pennsylvania.

Sources: POWERnews, PennEnvironment