D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb announced on Oct. 5 that Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) will pay over $57 million to resolve allegations that it discharged toxic chemicals into the District’s land and waterways for decades, resulting in the persistent toxic pollution of the Anacostia River. Under the terms of the agreement, Pepco must pay $47 million toward cleaning up the Anacostia River and $10 million in penalties. The company also must clean up contamination at its Buzzard Point and Benning Road facilities and investigate the current and historical environmental impacts of the company’s underground, District-wide system of transformer vaults. Additionally, Pepco will pay for the District to oversee this work.
“For far too long, District residents have been deprived of fully enjoying one of our greatest environmental resources – the Anacostia River – due to chronic, illegal, and intentional pollution. For decades, Pepco routinely discharged hazardous chemicals into soil, groundwater, and storm sewers, which fouled the Anacostia River, deprived us of the river’s many benefits, and endangered public health and safety. And as is too often the case, communities of color East of the River bore the brunt of the company’s illegal conduct,” said AG Schwalb. “Pepco is not, however, solely responsible for the pollution of the river, and it deserves credit for being the first responsible party to accept formal responsibility for its illegal practices. The Office of Attorney General will continue to fight for environmental justice, and today’s historic settlement will not only pave the way to accountability for every responsible party, but it will also hasten the restoration of the District’s most ecologically valuable watershed.”
“The long-term impacts of releasing toxic, hazardous chemicals pollutants into the Anacostia River has had disproportionate health-impacts on lower-income, Black residents in DC,” said Akosua Ali, President of NAACP DC. “This historic, $57 million settlement against PEPCO for the Anacostia River contamination and cleanup is a significant step towards addressing the generational health-impacts of releasing hazardous, chemical pollutants for over 100 years.”
"This is a huge victory for the District's environment and its residents, and a major step toward achieving Mayor Bowser's goal of improving the overall health and quality of life for all who live, work and play in the District,” said David Dickman, DOEE’s General Counsel. “DOEE would like to thank Attorney General Schwalb and the OAG attorneys for their work on this settlement."
“I want to thank everyone who made this step possible - from the Attorney General for making sure this cleanup is a priority, to the community activists like George Gurley who worked to shut down the power plant, to River Terrace residents organizing now with the Washington Interfaith Network ensuring our neighborhood remains healthy,” said Reverend Andre Greene, Pastor of Varick Memorial Church.
As a result of OAG’s investigation and action, Pepco must:
- Pay $10 million in civil penalties.
- Pay $47 million for the District’s initial cleanup of the Anacostia River.
- Complete the following actions:
- Investigate and assess the risks that contamination from its Buzzard Point facility poses to human health and the environment and perform cleanups to eliminate those risks, as needed.
- Pay for or perform the cleanup of the Benning Road Facility, including areas in the Anacostia River adjacent to the facility where Pepco’s contamination has migrated.
- Investigate and assess the current risk and potential contamination caused by Pepco’s transformer vaults.
- Pay for the District’s costs to oversee Pepco’s investigative and cleanup work.
OAG will continue to monitor Pepco to ensure that it does not attempt to pass these clean-up costs on to ratepayers.
Background on OAG’s Investigation
Pepco provides electricity to nearly all District residents and has operated throughout DC for over a century. Pepco’s operations at its Buzzard Point facility, Benning Road facility, and transformer vaults resulted in spills, equipment leaks, and intentional releases of petroleum and hazardous substances, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which contaminated the soil, groundwater, and Anacostia River. Some of the highly toxic pollutants Pepco discharged, like PCBs, take decades to break down and have remained in the river long after Pepco discharged them, resulting in long-lasting harmful effects to the environment and human health, potentially including neurologic developmental disorders, birth defects, and cancer.
Pepco illegally polluted the District’s natural resources in three primary ways:
- Benning Road Facility: Releasing pollutants into the groundwater and soil and into outfalls that connect to the Anacostia River. From 1906 until 2012, Pepco owned and operated a power generating station at 3400 Benning Road NE. Since 2011, under District oversight, Pepco has been performing an environmental investigation into hazardous substance releases from the facility. The investigation found PCBs, petroleum, and other hazardous substances in the soil and groundwater at the facility and in the Anacostia River sediments adjacent to wastewater outfalls that drain the facility, posing an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.
The Consent Order is available here.
- Buzzard Point Facility: Releasing pollutants into the groundwater and soil and discharging pollutants into storm sewers that connect to the Anacostia River. Beginning in 1938, Pepco operated a power generating station at its Buzzard Point Facility, which is located near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. During its many decades of operation at Buzzard Point, Pepco spilled or released petroleum and hazardous substances into the underlying soil and groundwater. Until 2013, at a rate of at least twice per month, Pepco intentionally pumped the pollutants in its containment structures – intended to prevent spills and leaks – into storm sewers that emptied into the Anacostia River. While internal company policy recognized that discharges to storm sewers should never occur, in practice the company continued to discharge pollutants into storm sewers for years.
- Transformer Vaults: Routinely pumping pollutants from its underground, District-wide electrical distribution system into storm water sewers that connect to District rivers and streams. To distribute electricity across the District, Pepco operates a system of approximately 60,000 below-ground vaults and manholes that are frequently filled with storm water runoff. The runoff contains polluted water from various sources, including Pepco’s own equipment. For decades, until 2008, Pepco regularly pumped this polluted water, including water contaminated with PCBs, petroleum, and sediment, from its vaults into nearby storm sewers that empty into the District’s rivers and streams.
The Consent Order for related civil penalties and investigation at the Buzzard Point Facility and Transformer Vaults is available here.
To date, the District has spent close to $35 million to investigate the extent of the damage to the Anacostia River and develop a cleanup proposal, which is scheduled for implementation in 2025.
Pepco will pay $47 million towards the District’s performance of cleaning up the river pursuant to this Partial Consent Decree.
All three settlement agreements will be open for a public comment period before they are finalized.
AAG Wesley Rosenfeld and SAAG David Hoffmann are handling this matter, with assistance from AAG Brian Caldwell.
The Office of the Attorney General’s Efforts to Protect the Environment
OAG has a proven track record of protecting District residents from environmental harms and is dedicated to doing all it can to protect the Earth and the District in the short and long terms by holding polluters accountable, fighting climate change, and standing up for communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by environmental harms. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) works closely with the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to coordinate and implement Anacostia River cleanup efforts and investigate and assess damage to the District’s natural resources. With this historic settlement, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) over the past 10 years will have recovered nearly $120 million to promote environmental justice in the District.