Maryland Congressional Delegation Urges Focus on Environmental Protection as State Negotiates New Conowingo Dam License

Office of Senator Chris Van Hollen, April 4, 2023

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Andy Harris, M.D., Jamie Raskin, David Trone, and Glenn Ivey (all Md.) wrote to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Serena McIlwain urging the Department of the Environment to ensure environmental protection measures for the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay Watershed are central to the new licensing agreement that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is considering for the Conowingo Dam. After a federal court invalidated FERC’s latest 50-year license, which excluded Maryland’s 2018 Water Quality Certification for the Dam, the lawmakers stressed that this relicensing process presents an opportunity for the state to incorporate the 2018 Certification’s requirements and advance critical efforts to curtail sediment flowing into the Watershed at the Dam, including from a significant amount trapped behind Constellation Energy’s Conowingo Hydroelectric Power Plant.

In their letter, the lawmakers began, “As you consider a new licensing agreement for Conowingo Dam, we write to urge you to pursue the best possible outcome for the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River. As you know, the Chesapeake Bay is both a national treasure and an economic engine for our region, and for decades the federal government and watershed states have worked together to clean up this vital resource.”

They also underscored the harmful impact that the accumulated sediment behind the Conowingo Dam has had on the Bay Watershed’s health, noting, “Over the last 95 years, millions of tons of sediment and nutrient pollution have washed downstream and accumulated to fill the Dam’s reservoir. During large storms, fast-moving water scours millions of pounds of this pollution from behind the dam and pushes it further downstream, undermining the region’s ability to meet our water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay.”

The lawmakers go on to stress, “Any licensing agreement is poised to have long-lasting implications not only for the Dam, but also for Maryland’s ability to meet our clean water goals. The 50-year FERC license that was vacated by the court did not contain the important cleanup requirements that Maryland found necessary to protect the water quality of the river and Bay. We are pleased that the State now has the opportunity to ensure any license granted for Conowingo has adequate measures to achieve meaningful progress on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and will continue to advance our regional efforts to meet the Chesapeake Bay Agreement goals.”

“As FERC begins its process to relicense the Conowingo Dam, we urge you to ensure that the final license advances our federal and state efforts by including the 2018 Water Quality Certification, which provides the terms necessary to ensure that the dam meets state water quality standards and will aid our efforts to continue to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” they concluded.

You can view the letter here below:

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