GenOn Energy is one of the largest wholesale producers of electricity in the US, founded in the December 2010 merger of Mirant Corporation and RRI Energy. Mirant’s CEO, Ed Muller, became the Chairman and CEO of GenOn.
Based out of Houston, the company employs around 3,400 people and operates forty-eight generating facilities in twelve states. GenOn has a total generating capacity of over 24,000 megawatts. The company’s power plants utilize various production technologies, but rely entirely on fossil fuels – coal (31%), natural gas (36%), oil (6%) and dual gas/oil (27%). The facilities are used for baseload, intermediate, and peaking production.
With a fleet of generating facilities that utilize 100% fossil fuel energy, GenOn produces significant amounts of air and water pollution throughout the country. The Keystone Generating Station in Pennsylvania, for example, is responsible for more toxic air pollutants (pdf) per year than any other plant in the country.
As of 2011, only two of GenOn’s coal-fired generating facilities have mercury control mechanisms installed (data provided by Ventyx, 2011). Exposure to mercury is known to negatively impact the neurological development of fetuses, infants, and children.
According to data from the Clean Air Task Force, fine particle pollution from Mirant and RRI Energy plants prior to the merger contributed to 427 deaths in 2010 alone. Also in 2010, valuation of the negative health impacts from pollution released by the facilities amounted to a combined $3.34 billion.
Due to ongoing pollution violations, GenOn’s generating facilities have been involved in numerous legal actions, brought forth by environmental organizations as well as state and federal agencies.
In a federal lawsuit started in 2007, the Sierra Club and PennEnvironment sued GenOn (then RRI Energy) for violations of the Clean Water Act by the company’s Conemaugh Generating Station. Since 2005, there were a reported 8,684 violations by the facility, located outside of Pittsburgh. The Conemaugh plant was said to have released 500 gallons of polluted water per minute, containing mercury, iron, aluminum, manganese, selenium, and boron, into the Stonycreek River. At times, pollution reached more than ten times the legal levels. This lawsuit was settled in June 2011, with GenOn agreeing to pay $5 million in damages, making it the largest settlement of its kind in Pennsylvania history. Had GenOn been charged the maximum for each violation, fines would have amounted to $300 million.
The Seward Generating Station, also in Pennsylvania, was cited by environmental organizations in 2010 for over 12,000 violations (pdf) of state and federal water laws. Before the case could be brought to court, GenOn (then RRI Energy) and the state Department of Environmental Protection worked out a new permit (pdf) that addressed the specified violations. More recently, the Seward plant has been exposed for improper disposal of coal ash (pdf), allowing hexavalent chromium to leach into groundwater supplies. Levels of this carcinogen near Seward have been measured at 3.3 times above federal drinking water standards.
In 2006, four generating facilities in Maryland and Virginia, the Dickerson, Chalk Point, Morgantown, and Potomac plants, were all cited as violating air pollution standards. GenOn (then Mirant) was ordered to install pollution control mechanisms in the plants, as well as pay civil penalties to the state and federal governments. More recent legal action involving the Chalk Point (pdf) and Potomac stations has confirmed ongoing air pollution from the plants. The Potomac plant is scheduled to close in 2012.
In early 2011, the US EPA ordered GenOn’s Portland Generating Station, in Eastern Pennsylvania, to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions by 81% over the next three years. This pollution is adversely affecting communities in Northwestern New Jersey. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and cause breathing problems, especially among children and the elderly. The Portland plant has also been criticized for unsafe disposal of coal ash, putting the health of local residents at risk. According to the EPA, coal combustion residues (coal ash) “contain contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects. EPA's risk assessment and damage cases demonstrate that, without proper protections, these contaminants can leach into groundwater and can migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant health public concerns.” Coal ash is currently not regulated by the EPA; regulations are pending.
GenOn and its predecessor companies (RRI Energy and Mirant) have spent over $5.2 million on lobbying for the interests of electric utilities. As of December 2012, GenOn’s political donations for the 2012 election cycle totaled $291,241.