This December, a federal appeals court has vacated a 50-year-license issued to Conowingo Dam last year after conservation groups challenged its approval in court. On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the license, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was invalid because it did not include conditions related to reducing pollution in the Chesapeake.
The groups behind the lawsuit cheered the decision, saying it would not disrupt operations at the dam, 5 miles south of Lancaster County along the Susquehanna River in Maryland, and would help protect the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay in the future.
The decision comes about a year after environmental groups represented by Earthjustice challenged FERC’s decision to renew the dam’s operation for another 50 years. Groups argued the agency unlawfully renewed Constellation’s license — formerly known as Exelon Corp — as it did not require the company to follow Maryland’s mitigation practices necessary to restore water quality downstream.
The conditions were laid out in 2018 by Maryland officials in a “water quality certification“ required by the regulatory commission licensing process. They included reducing the amount of sediment and debris that flows through the dam into the Chesapeake Bay and ensuring passage for fish and eels.
The dam’s former owner, Exelon, challenged the conditions in court in 2019. They argued that they cannot control pollution coming from sources upstream. The state of Maryland later settled, and Exelon agreed to pay it $225 million toward reducing pollution in the bay.
Earlier this year Exelon created a spinoff company, Constellation Energy, which now owns the dam.
A spokesperson for the dam owner said the decision was surprising and disappointing, adding that it could jeopardize the $225 million from the settlement with the state as well as another $475 million it has pledged toward reducing pollution in the bay.