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Brunner Island power plant to pay $1 million fine for ash dump leaks into Susquehanna

Brunner Island

The Brunner Island power plant along the Susquehanna River in York County in April 2018.

The owner of the coal-fired Brunner Island power plant in northern York County will pay a $1 million fine and stop toxic chemicals leaking from its ash dumps after reaching an agreement with groups that planned to sue to protect the Susquehanna River.

Talen Energy, in a consent decree to be filed today in federal court, also agrees to contribute $100,000 to projects reducing water pollution.

The settlement was reached after three environmental groups last August signaled their intent to sue Talen for violating the Clean Water Act.

The 45-page consent decree requires Talen to undertake costly action, including addressing seeps from ash dumps and ensuring that discharges meet federal regulations, the groups said.

“Talen Energy deserves credit for stepping up to the plate and agreeing to measures that should significantly reduce pollution,” said Mary Greene of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that represented the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, PennEnvironment and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Plant opened in 1961

The Brunner Island plant, which opened in 1961 across the river from Bainbridge, created 97,803 tons of coal waste last year, Talen said. The environmental groups said the plant creates 442,000 tons of ash and other coal combustion wastes annually.

The plant in 2016 began burning natural gas as well, but will continue to burn coal for the next decade.

"Talen is committed to complying with all environmental regulations and will continue to focus on the safe, efficient and reliable operation of our plants,” Debra Raggio, senior vice president, said. “In this settlement, Talen is addressing inherited legacy issues at these ash basins as we continue efforts to reduce Brunner Island’s environmental footprint by utilizing natural gas and phasing out coal."

The plant has dumped ash in seven unlined ponds and a lined landfill that cover a combined 367 acres that hug the Susquehanna River.

Six of the ponds are closed, but some of them leak arsenic, boron and lithium into the groundwater and the river, the groups said, and the agreement directs Talen to monitor and address seepage. Talen is also required to close the seventh unlined ash pond and remove all waste from it by the end of 2031.

Talen also must submit a plan to state regulators that ensures the landfill’s liner and leakage collection system is working and that any seepage is treated at a wastewater plant to meet permitted pollution limits.

Record-setting penalty

David Masur of PennEnvironment said the million-dollar fine is the largest penalty ever assessed a coal ash site in Pennsylvania.

“We hope more coal plants nationwide will follow this example,” Larissa Liebmann, Waterkeeper Alliance attorney, said. “It is imperative to our nation’s waterways and communities that industry not only excavate leaking coal ash basins but take additional measures to protect public health and the environment.”