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Mirant Operating Permit Challenged

A spokesperson for Mirant Corporation at Monday night's operating permit hearing on the Potomac River Power Plant threatened to reduce production if the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] imposes a cap on emissions.

"This will result in a loss of 57 percent of power for the region," Deborah Jennings, Mirant Corporation, told the DEQ representatives conducting the public hearing at Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center. Instead, she urged DEQ to adopt the Mirant proposed plant upgrades which she claimed would "provide better air quality with no jeopardy to electrical power supply."

Jennings also said that imposing stricter requirements on emission could force the plant to be closed permanently. This brought forth a round of applause from the 40-plus audience there to testify at the public hearing.

One of the strongest indictments of Mirant's contribution to airborne pollutants in the Washington region was offered by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8). In a prepared statement read by his legislative director, Tim Aiken, Moran urged DEQ to delay issuing the operating permit until it had done a "substantial amount of additional work to investigate and monitor the operations of this plant."

Moran further noted, "The more I look into this issue, the more I am troubled by what appears to be a minimalist approach on regulation and oversight, doing the least amount necessary, and in the process failing completely to safeguard the public's health. Mirant's behavior, in general, is deplorable."

UNABLE TO ATTEND the hearing due to traveling in the Middle East as part of a congressional fact-finding mission, Moran insisted, "Alexandria residents are paying the price in unhealthy air and poor quality of life" for Mirant's actions. "Clearly, Mirant is not a responsible corporation," he said in a prepared statement.

"The state should not side with this company and help it through a difficult financial time, not when it so callously disregarded its impact on the residents of Alexandria.

"As the guardian of the public's health and the public interest, the state must speak in the language the company seems to understand best, economics, and level the strongest possible penalties against the plant," Moran urged.

His testimony was followed by a variety of speakers, representing both themselves and various organizations, in urging DEQ to impose strict controls as well upgrading and increasing their monitoring procedures at the plant located at the north end of Old Town. Receiving that testimony were DEQ representatives Jeffrey Steers,

regional director, Northern Virginia Office; Terry Darten, regional air permit manager; and John McKie, senior environmental engineer.

Although the 30 day period for receiving public input expired at 5 p.m. Monday, McKie stated at the outset of the hearing "this will be extended for 15 days due to the large turnout here tonight." He also emphasized the "sole purpose of this hearing is to answer questions and receive testimony on the operating permit."

PRIOR TO THE question period, McKie went through a Powerpoint presentation explaining details about the plant and the "ozone attainment" requirements impacted by airborne pollutants. He explained that Mirant owns the plant but supplies power to Pepco the previous owner.

"Ozone is a secondary pollutant. It isn't a problem in the particular neighborhood where a plant is located," according to McKie. "The primary purpose of the Potomac River Plant is to supply power to the District of Columbia."

One of the concerns of those urging stricter controls on the Mirant plant is a practice known as "trading." This permits plants with poor records of controlling air pollutants to trade off permit requirements with more environmentally correct plants.

The fear has been that Mirant's renewed permit would permit it to engage in trading, thereby, enabling it to end run stricter controls. McKie assured the audience, "This permit excludes trading."

He also noted the permit sets a cap on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at 1,019 tons from May through September and requires the plant to keep track of all emissions. Darten pointed out, "If the plant changes owners the new owners must comply with the permit requirements."

Even though Mirant supplies all data pertaining to emissions to DEQ and DEQ is then required to verify that data, the state representatives admitted, under questioning from the audience, "Mirant has not been fined for any violations in the past 12 months."

DURING HER testimony, Lillian J. White, co-president, League of Women Voters of Alexandria, pointed out, "When the Clean Air Act was enacted in the 1970's, it was assumed that older coal power plants, such as Mirant, would close after the 30-year projected life and be replaced by cleaner new plants. Obviously, this did not happen. So the plant still operates after 50 years and has not been required to install the best available control technology to combat air pollution."

Mirant's Potomac River plant was built in 1949 and upgraded in 1957, according to McKie's presentation. It has five boilers and five smoke stacks. The stacks are known as short stacks because they only rise approximately 45 feet above the roof of the plant.

White requested that DEQ amend the permit "to reflect the installation of equipment that is more efficient to handle the problems at this plant." She also stated, the League applauds the fact the permit "will not allow trading for credit reductions from other facilities.

"Mirant could have and would have had the option to trade credit in 2004, with other facilities to meet air quality standards and essentially continue to overproduce NOx in Alexandria. So this is good news."

This overproduction of harmful emissions was highlighted in Moran's statement citing the recent study commissioned by Poul Hertel and Elizabeth Chimento to have Sullivan Environmental Consultants, Inc., analyze the "downwash" of pollutants on nearly Marina Towers. That study concluded Marina Towers "was subject to maximum exposure of the plant's exhaust plume at least 1,200 hours per year. That is 50 days every year."

According to the Moran statement, the Mirant plant "emitted an estimated 16,120 tons of SO2 (sulphur dioxide) last year." That "translates into 3,865 micrograms per cubic meter/day. EPA's ambient air quality standard for SO2 is for no more than 360 micrograms per cubic meter within a 24 hour period."

Moran concluded, "The concentration levels of SO2 that may be found on the top floors of Marina Towers may be 19 times higher 24 hours a day than what EPA allows to exist within a 24 hour period."

In addition to making public statements for the record, attendees were urged to submit more detailed testimony in writing to DEQ. Following the 15 day extension, DEQ will make its decision.