Md. sues Mirant over pollution from Prince George's landfill

Coal ash at Brandywine contaminating groundwater, nearby creek

April 03, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler

The Maryland Department of the Environment filed suit Friday against an Atlanta-based power company, alleging that its coal-ash landfill in Prince George's County is polluting groundwater and a nearby creek.

The Brandywine landfill operated by Mirant Mid-Atlantic is allowing coal-ash contaminants to seep into the ground and get into Mattaponi Creek, the state agency contends.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, comes 60 days after state environmental officials notified Mirant that it would be sued if it did not agree to clean up pollution from the 300-acre landfill.

Secretary of the Environment Shari T. Wilson said in a statement that her staff has been unable to get Mirant to agree to a timetable for investigating and cleaning up the pollution, nor for coming into compliance with 2008 regulations tightening controls on coal-ash disposal.

Under the rules, landfills must have liners to keep contaminants out of groundwater, must collect any liquid leaching from the landfill and must monitor groundwater for possible leaks.

About 8.5 million tons of ash from Mirant's power plants in Southern Maryland have been dumped at the Brandywine landfill over the past 30 years, the state's lawsuit says.

Mirant contends that it is operating its landfill in compliance. Company spokeswoman Misty Allen said a liner, leachate collection system and monitoring wells have been installed in the part of the landfill where coal ash is still being dumped.

This is the second lawsuit brought by the state against Mirant over ash disposal. The state sued the company in 2008 in Charles County Circuit Court, alleging that pollutants and heavy metals from its now-closed Faulkner coal-ash landfill were getting into Zekiah Swamp.

State officials filed the Brandywine lawsuit in federal court because the potential penalties are higher under federal law and because they hope to get a quicker resolution there, said MDE spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus.

The judge in the Faulkner case has yet to rule on an 18-month-old motion by Mirant to dismiss the state's lawsuit, Stoltzfus said, and recently proposed scheduling the trial about a year from now.

The state's action on the Brandywine landfill comes after environmental groups threatened last fall to file their own lawsuit. The MDE spokeswoman said the groups - the Patuxent Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Defenders of Wildlife - could join the state's federal lawsuit.

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