Group’s pollution suit will continue

The proposed settlement between the state Department of Environmental Protection and Waste Treatment Corporation of Warren for discharging waste water from oil and gas drilling into the Alleghney River addresses some issues at the plant, but falls short of protecting the public and the environment, says Clean Water Action, the group suing Waste Treatment Corporation in federal court.

WTC would pay a $25,000 fine and be required to install upgrades to the plant and meet new discharge limits by 2016 for violations of the Clean Streams Law into the Allegheny River, according to a proposed consent decree with the DEP.

An October 2012 DEP study determined there were high levels of salts, metals, and radioactive compounds found downstream from WTC’s discharge pipe “harming the river’s water quality and biological community.”

“We are glad to see that the state and the company recognize that Waste Treatment Corp.’s discharge of drilling wastewater is damaging the Allegheny River and that the company will eventually have to keep these contaminants out of the river. It is unfortunate that DEP would allow the company to continue this contamination for the next two years before having to take action,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania state director for Clean Water Action.

Arnowitt said the proposed agreement falls short of addressing clean-up of the river, and the group will continue with its lawsuit, which was filed in October in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“Beyond allowing Waste Treatment Corp. to continue their damaging discharges for two years, the consent decree fails to require any cleanup of the elevated levels of radioactivity they found in the Allegheny riverbed sediment. We’re not clear why DEP did not address this, but it is an important concern of ours and community members,” Arnowitt said.

Arnowitt said under the agreement new equipment that must be installed by 2016 would remove 99 percent of the contaminants found in gas drilling wastewater, but the agreement would “allow the company to continue to discharge gas drilling wastewater at rates not significantly reduced from present for the next two years,” he said.

“DEP needs to send a strong message that violating our clean water laws comes at a high price in Pennsylvania. Waste Treatment Corporation has alternatives that could be implemented right now, such as becoming a no-discharge wastewater recycling facility. We hope that DEP and the Commonwealth Court will carefully consider these issues prior to finalizing the consent decree,” said Arnowitt.

“We encourage the public to get involved and submit comments to DEP on this proposed agreement with Waste Treatment Corporation,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action. “The Allegheny River belongs to the public and everyone who depends on it for clean water should let DEP know their opinions.”

DEP is taking public comments on the proposed consent decree with WTC until Monday, Dec. 23. Comments can be mailed to the DEP Northwest Regional Office, Clean Water Program, 230 Chestnut St., Meadville, PA 16335.

After the public comment period and any changes made by DEP, the decree must be approved by Commonwealth Court.