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Anti-Mirant Efforts Coalesce

EPA urged to take a more positive role in Mirant controversy.

Residents of Marina Towers got a first-hand update of efforts to close down their next-door neighbor, Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station, last Thursday night during a briefing lead by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8).

"We have several things going for us," Moran told the packed house of more than 70 residents in Marina Towers Potomac Room. "One is Mirant's own description of this plant in their bankruptcy proceeding and the other is, for the first time, we have the state on our side."

Moran noted that Mirant had stated in its bankruptcy proceeding "the plant has no value and would be obsolete by 2006." As for the state, both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Governor's Office, Moran said, "Up to this administration, the state has consistently been on the side of the utility companies" in any dispute.

"Southern is the parent company of Mirant and Southern is the worst power company of all. They [Mirant and Southern] didn't think citizen activism would have that much support because Southern is particularly arrogant," Moran said.

"The Governor's letter [to Mirant's president Lisa Johnson] is very unique. We don't have a lot of support from either EPA or The White House," Moran said.

He distributed a letter he had sent that day to Stephen L. Johnson, administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, emphasizing that continued operation of Mirant's Potomac River Plant would "set a bad precedent that could undermine the Clean Air Act" by the actions of the D.C. Public Service Commission, PEPCO and JPM asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "to place regional electric reliability concerns above public health ...."

Moran told Johnson, "When operating at full capacity" the Alexandria Mirant plant is in "significant violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards." He requested that EPA make their best experts available to work with VDEQ "to ensure that no additional units are brought into operation until and unless it is determined that local residents' health is protected and Clean Air Act standards are upheld."

JOINING MORAN at the podium were Jeffrey A. Steers, regional director, VDEQ, and Ignacio Pessoa, Alexandria city attorney. The meeting was held under the aegis of NOTICe, a civic association focused on issues impacting North Old Town Alexandria.

"We are pleased the citizens in the area have helped us understand the issues. We are trying to stay deliberate. But, we are very disappointed about the way the company [Mirant] restarted Unit 1," Steers told the audience.

"We have been told that for any future start ups they will give us more notice so we can have a dialogue. Mirant made a critical strategic error by not sitting down with us first before they restarted unit one," Steers said.

"We are trying to be fair and balanced. We will continue to pursue the situation as to the air quality. National Air Quality Standards are health based," he said.

"There is also the unresolved Consent Decree because of some of the information given to us by the company. We are still working on this and the city has entered the proceedings," Steers said.

His claim of Mirant's information credibility was buttressed by Pessoa. "When it became clear Mirant had not supplied all the facts and the Consent Decree began to unravel we applied to become part of the action. The new complaint covers the present unit startup as well as any other future startups," Pessoa said.

He then called on William Skrabak, division chief, Environmental Quality, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Administration, to explain actions being taken by the city to further monitor Mirant's actions.

"We have been working with the state to continually monitor the air quality. The city's modeling showed air pollution to be two and three times higher than that claimed by Mirant," Skrabak said.

"When you do modeling you usually do it on a worse case scenario. Mirant has not done that. They have made assumptions that are incorrect," he said.

"WE DON'T feel human health is being protected since they [Mirant] are going right to the wire and modeling, as a process, is not that precise. The modeling has covered an area that includes approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Alexandria residents," Skrabak said.

He also noted that Mirant has filed with the Federal Aviation Administration to raise the stacks by approximately 50 feet. When the plant was built in 1949 the stacks where required to be at their present height due to the plant's proximity to National Airport. Flight patterns have now been altered which would possibly permit the stacks being raised.

"We intend to file another action in State Court next week. Council has authorized this. We are reviewing the one boiler scenario," Pessoa said.

That action had not happened as of Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 4. However, it was expected to be filed in Alexandria Circuit Court by the end of the week, according to attorney John Britton, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, acting for the City.

"Council has also authorized expansion of Dr. Bascom's studies of air quality," Pessoa said. Rebecca Bascom, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine, a nationally recognized expert on the health effects of air borne pollutants, has been retained by the city to study the results of Mirant's discharges on those living and working in Alexandria.

ALTHOUGH NOT A PART of the formal program, Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper was in the audience and invited to comment by Moran. The day before she had given formal testimony at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Commission chaired by Fairfax County Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.

"Their startup was totally unilateral and we did not appreciate it. We have to follow all the rules. But, you can be sure of one thing, we are going to do everything possible to shut Mirant down. It's time for them to go," Pepper said to a round of applause.

During her testimony before the commission on the 28th, Pepper said, "The City of Alexandria is not looking to harm any of our neighbors across the river. We are, however, acting to protect the health of our residents and those outside the city who are affected by this plant."

"Our air quality consultant told us that the modeling Mirant has used to justify unilaterally restarting one boiler is not good science and is just not credible. As long as that's the case, we will oppose any attempt to restart this plant, in whole or in part."

During his presentation Skrabak had also emphasized, "It's in the best interests of the District of Columbia to get this plant closed as well." He noted that pollutants can reach those residents as well, depending on wind direction.