Environmental groups filed an appeal on Thursday in an attempt to overturn a federal commission’s decision to relicense the Conowingo Dam.
They contend the terms of the new license do not do enough to address efforts needed to clean up the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
In March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced its decision to grant the electric power company Exelon Corp. a new 50-year license to continue operating the Conowingo Dam.
In their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Sassafras Riverkeeper and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wrote that FERC’s action was unlawful because it did not include cleanup requirements that the Maryland Department of the Environment determined were necessary.
The environmental groups also wrote that by not adequately considering harm the dam does to the river and to the Bay, FERC’s action violates the federal Clean Water Act, Federal Power Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Conowingo Dam is the single largest threat to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We simply can’t allow this license to go through for the next 50 years without sufficient protections,” said Betsy Nicholas, the executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
The 93-year old hydroelectric dam is located between Harford and Cecil counties in Maryland, about 10 miles upriver from where the Susquehanna flows into the Chesapeake Bay. For decades, the dam has trapped sediment and nutrient pollution from the river, preventing it from reaching the Bay.
But the reservoir behind the dam has filled up faster than expected, so it no longer catches sediments and lets more nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants pass through the dam and into the Bay.
FERC’s license has no parameters to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment — the most significant pollutants to the Bay watershed, Nicholas continued.
The environmental groups’ action came after they filed a petition in April for a rehearing of FERC’s approval of Exelon’s license application. But their request was denied, Nicholas said.
In a Friday morning statement, Exelon noted that FERC issued a unanimous decision on the new 50-year license, “which also was supported by the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and state environmental protection agencies in Pennsylvania.”
The company said the new license provides $700 million in immediate help for environmental programs, projects and payments to benefit residents and aquatic life.
“We’d prefer to focus on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts — not on protracted litigation that may serve to delay or deny these benefits at a time when they are most needed,” the statement concluded.