Maryland requires three coal power plants to limit arsenic, mercury water pollution starting in 2020

Maryland is requiring three coal power plants to limit the amount of mercury, arsenic and other toxic metals they release into the Potomac and Patuxent rivers starting in 2020, amid uncertainty over whether the federal government will address the discharges.

State environmental regulators issued the new water discharge permits to the Chalk Point, Dickerson and Morgantown power plants last month, replacing water pollution standards that dated to the 1980s.

Dozens of Democratic state lawmakers and environmental advocates weighed in during the permitting process last year, urging Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to require the pollution controls immediately, rather than wait for President Donald Trump’s administration to put new federal rules in place.

A rule was set to be put in place under former President Barack Obama by this year, but the Trump administration at first put it on hold and then delayed it by two years. That delay is in the midst of a review in federal appeals court.

Regardless of the outcome of that fight, the Maryland plants will have to scrub their water emissions of the toxic metals starting Nov. 1, 2020.

Maryland Department of the Environment officials said they “welcomed the scientific and policy input from all sides” and will “keep pushing hard for environmental progress, including cleaner water and energy for all in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Groups including the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said they were pleased to see the rules imposed, estimating that new technology could reduce discharges of toxic metals by 97 percent.

"This is yet another step, among many left to go, in order to bring under some level of control and accountability for the egregious environmental impacts these plants have inflicted on their neighbors, and the surrounding air, water and land for years,” Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman said.

A spokesman for NRG Energy referred questions about the new permits to GenOn Energy, a subsidiary that is in the process of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and becoming a standalone company.

A GenOn spokeswoman did not immediately provide any comment.

Maryland environmental regulators are “working on a proposed permit” for the Fort Smallwood power complex near Baltimore, which includes the Brandon Shores and H.A. Wagner coal plants, spokesman Jay Apperson said. When it is issued, it “will address” the toxic metals rule, he said.

Representatives for those plants’ owner, Talen Energy, could not be immediately reached for comment.

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