MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — FirstEnergy said Tuesday it will pay $50,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by three West Virginia environmental groups accusing the utility of arsenic pollution from a coal-ash dump at its Albright power plant.
The Ohio-based utility and its Mon Power subsidiary don't admit to any of the allegations, said spokesman Mark Durbin, but they have agreed to end litigation over the plant that's set to shut down Sept. 1.
The Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition sued FirstEnergy and its Mon Power subsidiary in May 2011 over the site, located above the Cheat River in Preston County.
The lawsuit said the utility should be fined nearly $9.4 million for federal Clean Water Act violations that the groups said were harming three trout and recreational streams that flow into the Cheat River.
Mon Power has denied being out of compliance and said the state Department of Environmental Protection has never enforced the permit standards it was accused of violating.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley granted a joint motion that the proceedings be put on hold while the formal terms of the settlement are put in writing. The proposed consent decree was not on file with the court Tuesday, but Durbin said it will require FirstEnergy to pay $45,000 to The Mountain Institute and $5,000 to the U.S. Department of Justice.
A spokesman for the Sierra Club said the consent decree should be filed by the end of the week but declined further comment.
FirstEnergy will also cover the groups' legal fees. Durbin said that resolves all civil claims.
Albright is one of nine FirstEnergy plants the company had previously announced it would shut down this fall.
"At that time, the plant won't be generating any more coal-combustion by-products," Durbin said, "so there will be no disposal issues going forward."
The Albright plant has been disposing of fly ash since the mid-1950s, and the current disposal site is its second. Mon Power says its facility was initially permitted in 1987, and permits were reissued in 1994 and 2001.
Mon Power argued the DEP erred in setting arsenic discharge limits that were too high in 2008, and it appealed those limits. It said it was still working through the administrative process with the DEP when it was sued.