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Mirant Plant Biggest Topic at Town Meeting

Rep. Moran answers concerns from citizens.

U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8) came home to Alexandria this week for a town hall meeting and residents wanted to talk about power plants, Medicare and the budget.

More than 100 people converged on Minnie Howard School for Monday night’s meeting, rescheduled from earlier this month. “There is lots to talk about but I want to hear from you,” Moran told the audience. “We have a number of people available to answer questions, so tell us your issues.”

The Mirant Potomac River Power plant was at the top of the list. Large contingents of residents from Marina Towers were there. “We live right next to the power plant and are very concerned,” said Don Burchill.

Moran gave the crowd an update on Mirant. “We are not likely to be able to get the plant closed,” he said. “Perhaps we could have accomplished that before Pepco sold it, but not now. The best we can hope is to get them to comply with the Clean Air Act by decreasing the amount of power that they produce and reducing the number of hours of operation.

“They tell you that they can’t do this because they are already in bankruptcy. But they are in bankruptcy because of the deal they negotiated with Pepco when Mirant bought the plant. They agreed to sell power back to Pepco for D.C. and Maryland at a substantially below market rate. If they can renegotiate that deal, it will help them substantially,” Moran said.

The plant is not likely to be closed for another reason. “We have learned that this plant is a backup power source for the Pentagon in case of emergency,” Moran said. “We are all very aware of national security concerns and don’t want to do anything to impact negatively on our security, but we can work to improve the situation.”

THE POWER PLANT on the Potomac is a coal-burning plant. One of the issues is New Source Review. Under the Clean Air Act, the plant is allowed to continue to operate as a coal-burning facility but cannot increase its output.

“We are concerned that Mirant has made modifications that are not allowed under the Clean Air Act,” said Alexandria City Councilman Paul Smedberg. “The state attorney general is looking into this, among other violations.”

The plant has recently been cited for some of those violations. Specifically, the plant is emitting twice the allowable level of nitrous oxide. Jerome A. Paulson is a pediatrician and the co-director of the MidAtlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, discussed the health risks from emissions from the plant.

“Nitrogen oxide plus hydrogen created nitric acid,” Paulson said. “If these pollutants can cause our buildings and monuments to decay, think of what they can do to our lungs.”

Children are the most at risk from air pollution. “If children breathe polluted air, they get more of the pollutants than adults,” Paulson said. “They breathe more rapidly, have more lung surface area for their body size; take in more air per minute; inhale more air for their size, spend more time outdoors and run more.”

The Virginia attorney general and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency have now cited Mirant for violations. “The matter is in the enforcement section of the attorney general’s office so we are hoping that something is done,” Moran said. “I introduced legislation that would have dealt with this and other plants of its type but it didn’t get very far. As a matter of fact, the energy bill that is going through the Congress now is going in the opposite direction.

“This administration wants to continue to allow environmental credit trading and that just isn’t good for us,” he said.

Credit trading would allow Mirant, a plant that is not in compliance with the Clean Air Act, to purchase “credits” from a plant that is cleaner than required instead of complying with Clean Air standards. “This plant is the single largest stationary source of pollution in the region,” Moran said. “They should not be allowed to continue to pollute our air by buying credits from a clean plant in Ohio.”

State Delegate Marian Van Landingham introduced a bill that would have further regulated the Potomac River Plant but it remains in committee while the attorney general deals with the current enforcement issues. A number of citizens signed a petition asking that something be done about bringing the plant into compliance.

THE NEXT TOPIC was Medicare. “I have advanced stage prostate cancer,” one man from the audience told Moran. “It is costing between $5,000 and $6,000 a month just to keep me alive. The $100 a month that the new Medicare bill would provide to me for prescription won’t begin to help.”

Moran agreed with him. “The vote on this very important legislation was called at 3 a.m.,” he said. “It would have failed but they waited for three hours and got some additional votes and it passed. I don’t think it’s going to help most seniors and it certainly isn’t going to help anyone here in Northern Virginia. If you meet the income criteria, you certainly can’t afford to live here so that wasn’t even part of my discussion.

“I’m sure that it won’t be repealed but we can hope that it improves as the regulations get written because there are several things that need to be worked out,” he said.

ONE WOMAN asked whether she should simply not sign up for Medicare since she has private insurance.

“No, I think you should sign up,” Moran said. “At least for catastrophic coverage.”

There is concern that some public employers are going to drop certain healthcare coverage for those eligible for Medicare. “The city certainly won’t drop their coverage and we are going to encourage Governor Warner not to drop it at the state level,” Moran said. “However, we need to understand that many municipal and state governments are looking for ways to cut costs and healthcare costs continue to rise. I can understand that some states and localities might see this as a way to cut costs. We will have to see.”

The meeting lasted for two hours. Moran will hold other town hall meetings throughout the 8th Congressional District over the next several weeks.