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Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Company

ELR Citation: 48 ELR 20162
Nos. 17-1895, (4th Cir., 09/12/2018)

The Fourth Circuit held that seepage from a coal-fired power plant did not violate §301 of the CWA, which prohibits the unauthorized discharge of any pollutant into navigable waters. An environmental group argued that the plant's landfill and settling ponds qualified as point sources from which arsenic seeped, polluting the groundwater around the plant and ultimately the navigable waters of a nearby river and creek. The district court determined that the landfill and settling ponds constituted point sources as defined by the CWA, and thus found the plant liable for ongoing violations of §301 of the Act. On appeal, the appellate court concluded that while arsenic from the coal ash stored at the plant was found to have reached navigable waters—having been leached from the landfill and ponds by groundwater and carried into navigable waters—that simple causal link does not fulfill the Act's requirement that the discharge be from a point source. The court therefore reversed the district court's ruling.