D.C. Strikes Deal for Benning Road Power Plant Cleanup

The Anacostia is one of the ten most polluted rivers in the nation.

For too long we have accepted that a polluted Anacostia has to be a reality for the District. However, under pressure from the EPA, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) is finally dealing with the six most toxic sites along the Anacostia, one of which is Pepco's Benning Road power plant. On February 2, 2011, DDOE announced that it had reached a "consent decree" with Pepco that it believes will address the legacy of pollution at Benning Road (to learn more click here). The proposal is promising, as there have been six documented releases of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the site over the years. PCBS are known cuase developmental problems and are carcinogenic in humans and wildlife, for example two-third of all brown bull-head catfish (pictured above) in the Anacostia have tumors.

However, several major environmental groups (Anacostia Riverkeepers, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and the NRDC) have filed a legal motion to intervene in the consent decree lawsuit, claiming the current agreement does not go far enough to ensure a satisfactory cleanup. What concerns these groups is that the consent decree does not actually obligate Pepco to complete a cleanup at the Benning Site, nor does it include enough opportunity for public comment and input

In fact, all that the decree mandates is that Pepco carry out an assessment of the conditions at the Benning Road site, offer a remediation plan, and then pay the District for the costs for conducting a cleanup; if such a cleanup is even found necessary by DDOE. Thus, unlike other toxic sites that are federally controlled through tightly regulated Federal Superfund law, this consent decree places the Benning Road cleanup completely under DDOE timelines and supervision.

It remains to be seen how DDOE and Pepco will work together to address the serious health risk represented by the Benning Road power plant. However, it is essential that both citizens and environmental groups keep the pressure on DDOE to make good on their promise to undertake a thorough and timely cleanup at this and other toxic sites.