DEP announces “re-draft” of permit to discharge coal ash leachate into Allegheny River

After re-draft, new 30-day comment period and public meeting

[Editor’s note: This post was updated to include the contact information of the DEP official who sent the message below.]

This feels like a rare day.

After a Warren County Commissioners meeting in which members of the public expressed concerns about a permit to allow the Warren Generating Station to discharge treated leachate from an onsite landfill of coal ash, and after commissioners received a hundred emails prompting them to contact the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP has agreed to re-draft the permit, begin a new 30-day comment period, and hold a public meeting to hear concerns from the public.

In addition, comments submitted during the present comment period, which ends on October 29th, will also be given consideration for the re-drafted permit.

In short, DEP has demonstrated they can be responsive to citizen concerns. Could it be that the people of Warren County will no longer accept perfunctory permitting of polluting activities just because “that’s the way it’s always been done before?”

Message from DEP

This message was sent by Elizabeth Rementer, Press Secretary, Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Communications, 400 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17105. Email: Phone: 717.787.1323. Twitter: @PennsylvaniaDEP

Warren Generating Station, an electric power generating plant in Conewango Township, Warren County, is seeking a renewal of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the discharge of treated leachate and stormwater to the Allegheny River. The Department defines leachate as “a liquid, including suspended or dissolved components in the liquid, that has percolated through or drained from solid waste” and, in this case, would be the liquid that drains from the closed ash disposal landfill. This is a closed landfill that was associated with the former coal fired power plant that was located at this site. The landfill was capped and closed nearly 20 years ago and no new ash disposal has occurred since that time and no new ash disposal is proposed. It’s important to note that any discharges into the river must be treated to remove contaminants and be in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and state Clean Streams Law. The discharge from the leachate treatment system at the facility is in compliance with its current NPDES permit and has been permitted for multiple permit cycles (an NPDES permit is typically issued for a five-year term).

DEP evaluated the treated ash landfill leachate discharges based on information contained in the 2019 renewal permit application, the applicable technology-based requirements for leachate discharges of coal combustion residuals (ash), and new information obtained since the previous permit renewal regarding protection of threatened and endangered species in the Allegheny River. The permit renewal also contains more stringent changes, including the addition of monitoring and effluent limitations for oil and grease and monitoring for chloride and nickel. Prior testing of the treated leachate discharged from the facility under the exiting permit have shown no detection of arsenic or Hexavalent Chromium and low concentrations of manganese, well below the legal limits. There are no changes to the treatment of the discharged water in the renewal application, so those levels should remain consistent. The sampling of radiological parameters was not required as part of the NPDES permit renewal application.

Still, DEP understands that citizens are concerned about the impact of wastewater discharges on our natural resources. DEP values and encourages public comments and concerns in its permit renewal process, and no action will be taken until public input is considered. While the public comment period closes on Oct. 29, there will be opportunities in the near future for the public to provide input. DEP is currently preparing to re-draft the NPDES permit following requested changes to the permit application from the operator. The re-draft, once completed, will be publicly posted on the PA Bulletin with a new 30-day public comment period (public comments from the initial comment period will still be considered). DEP will hold a public meeting soon to hear concerns from the public and explain the permit renewal and process. The date and location of that public meeting is still being planned but the public will be invited and encouraged to participate.

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