A federal court judge will soon decide whether a lawsuit should go forward that the Sierra Club and Conservation Law Foundation has filed over alleged violations of water-discharge permits for the Merrimack Station coal-burning power plant in Bow.
The two organizations say the owner of Merrimack Station, Granite Shore Power LLC, and previous owner Eversource have been violating the terms of their 1992 permit by discharging heated water into the Merrimack River.
But the power companies say the organizations, which filed the legal action in February, were too late in doing so and have not identified a single date where the thermal pollution took place.
“This lawsuit is part of a continuing and long-running effort by the Plaintiffs to shut down the Station,” wrote Wilbur Glahn of the McLane Middleton law firm, which is representing both the defendants.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante held a hearing on efforts by Granite Shore and Eversource to dismiss the suit or, in the alternative, delay it pending EPA review of the current permit. Laplante said he would issue a ruling later.
The Sierra Club has said Merrimack Station has been operating on a permit issued 26 years ago, long past the five-year term set by the Clean Water Act. It has twice held off suing over Merrimack Station, only to see the Environmental Protection Agency not meet its internal deadline for issuing a permit.
“EPA’s delay gives this uneconomic plant an unfair competitive advantage over generators operating in compliance with modern pollution control equipment,” wrote Mark Kresowik, a director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in June 2018.
A year ago, the EPA wrote the Sierra Club and asked it to hold off on a lawsuit, saying it would be counterproductive in its efforts to complete a new permit. It estimated that a new permit would be issued by last winter.
Last year Eversource closed on a $175 million deal that included Merrimack Station. The plant is now used only when high demand necessitates its operation. CLF said there are two other coal plants in New England — Bridgeport Harbor Station in Connecticut, which is slated to close in June 2021, and Schiller Station in Portsmouth.
Eversource spokesman William Hinkle said that the company no longer owns or staffs the plant.
”Prior to the sale of the plant, we worked with our state and federal regulators to meet all environmental permitting requirements, including those cited in CLF’s and Sierra Club’s lawsuit,” he said in an email.