Test: Water Meets Standards

Groups say Mon Power is polluting

Morgantown Dominion Post
14 March 2011
By Michelle Wolford

KINGWOOD — Three environmental groups have threatened to file suit against Mon Power over arsenic levels from coal ash dumps near the Albright Power Plant, which the company owns.

The groups — West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, W.Va. Rivers Coalition and Sierra Club of West Virginia — claimed in a letter sent to the company in February that those levels are “unlawfully high” in the Cheat River.

The groups also claim the company is not reporting selenium discharge with enough accuracy to determine if it violates its DEP permit.

On Feb. 22, The Dominion Post collected water samples from the Cheat about one mile upstream from the Albright Power Plant, and a quarter of a mile downstream from the plant. The samples were tested for arsenic and selenium by Reliance Laboratories Inc. of Bridgeport. Results received this week show that the water in the Cheat River meets Water Quality Standards.

Neither sample revealed either mineral at a level above the permit restrictions.

The samples were not obtained on Mon Power property nor at the same sites where the company checked its discharge. But they were collected before drainage from the coal ash dumps enters the river and after.

Numbers provided by the groups, which the state DEP has confirmed are Mon Power’s (then known as Allegheny Power) readings at the Albright plant, indicate the company did exceed its discharge limit for arsenic from July to December of 2010.

“Each discharge amount that exceeds permit limits is an unlawful and unpermitted discharge, and therefore, is not shielded from liability” under the Clean Water Act, the groups told the company in a letter, which threatens a lawsuit seeking civil penalties and “for an injunction compelling it to come into compliance with the Act and its permit requirements if no remediation steps are outlined.”

According to Kathy Cosco, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia DEP, exceeding permit limits “does not always trigger notices of violation or penalties.”

If the DEP notices a pattern of “exceedences,” she said, “the DEP will work with the company to determine what the problem is. If the company can’t get them in line, or if they fail to take steps necessary to rectify the situation, then the agency will start down the path of assessing penalties.

“There are instances where the nature or severity of a single violation may result in the assessment of a penalty,” Cosco said. “Generally speaking, however, an individual exceedance reported on a Discharge Monitoring Report would not trigger an enforcement action. The company is expected to take necessary measures to achieve compliance with the permit.”

The environmental groups also claim Allegheny Power isn’t accurately reporting selenium discharges into the Cheat River.

“From March 2010 through October 2010, Allegheny Energy reported the concentration of selenium in its effluent with only three significant digits — too few for the undersigned, the DEP, or the public to determine whether a violation had occurred.”

According to Cosco, “the company has what is a called a variance: A condition that allows the facility a threeyear period during which it may exceed its selenium limits three times before a violation is triggered.” In other words, if the company exceeds the 0.005 mg/l (milligrams per liter) four times in a 36-month period then the exceedence is considered a violation. When the legislature passed this variance, it applied to monitoring that began Jan. 25, 2010, so the permit just completed the first year of the three year period.

In the letter to Allegheny Energy, the three groups claim Allegheny Energy “has met and possibly exceeded its limit of 0.005 mg/L on at least five separate occasions. ... Because Allegheny Energy is apparently rounding to the nearest part per billion (equivalent to a thousandth of a mg/L), a reported 0.005 mg/L could reflect a discharge with a selenium concentration from 4.51 parts per billion to 5.49 parts per billion.”

Testing done on behalf of The Dominion Post showed the selenium level at less than 0.004 mg/L upstreamm and downstream from the plant, which is in compliance with its permit limit.

The letter asserts that by rounding off the numbers, the company “has the potential to hide violations of its permits, and is therefore not in accordance with the monitoring and reporting requirements of the Clean Water Act.”

“Our concern is that the standards set by DEP to protect human health and the environment are not being met,” said Mike Becher of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, who represents three nonprofits. “An additional consideration is that just downstream of this discharge is a trout stream —- Daugherty Run,” he said.

Becher said the technology exists to treat pollutants, such as arsenic.

“The best result from our perspective is to achieve compliance with the legal limits in the permit.”

David Neurohr, an Allegheny Energy spokesman, said the company had no comment “until we can see something a little more definite.” He said he had not seen the letter sent to Daniel C. McIntire, Allegheny’s vice president of Generation Operations.