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Pressure on Mirant Builds

PEPCO says Mirant can cease in 18 to 24 months.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has become the latest group to call for the immediate closure of Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station.

Speaking before a meeting of the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board in Richmond Monday, Sept. 26, Cale Jaffe, associate attorney for the Center based in Charlottesville, said, "I am here to urge the board to begin the process of revoking Mirant's permit to operate the Potomac River Generating Station," citing the "significant contribution by the Potomac River facility to unhealthy air."

A volunteer citizen board appointed by the governor, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board promulgates regulations that are enforced by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, with whom they work on a regular basis, according to Jaffe.

"Although the Mirant situation was not on their agenda, it came up because Mirant is on their high priority violators list. They can pull a particular case for special attention," Jaffe said.

He also said the consent decree now before the U.S. District Court in Alexandria "is in jeopardy due to Mirant's failure to disclose materially-relevant details to state and federal regulators." He urged the board to "look forward, and plan a future without the Potomac River power plant."

Jaffe told the board, "When in operation, the Potomac River facility literally pumps pollutants ... directly into people's homes ... Considering the extraordinary nature of Mirant's violations and the dramatic impact of these violations on public health, it has become apparent that the only way for the facility to comply with the law is to retire the plant permanently."

Jaffe's comments tied into a Sept. 21 letter from Gov. Mark Warner to Lisa D. Johnson, president of Mirant Potomac River, LLC, in which he stated, "I was very disappointed to learn that Mirant's Potomac River plant has begun operations without the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality having been afforded the opportunity to review the operating scenario."

"It is my understanding there have been no improvements made to the plant since it was closed in August," the letter continued. "However you have elected to restart operations. I expect better cooperation from Virginia's corporate citizens."

Warner emphasized, "I will not tolerate any assault on the health, safety and welfare of Virginia's citizens or the environment, and I insist on compliance with environmental laws and regulations. This matter must be brought to a swift and responsible conclusion ... The bottom line is that you need to either fully comply with environmental laws and regulations or shut down."

IN RESPONSE Johnson replied Sept. 23. "We share your concern for the environment and the health and safety of citizens in the vicinity of our plant." She also stated that both the shut down and restart "were actions taken in full appreciation of health-based air quality standards."

Johnson's letter continued, "Our company, and especially the 120 Mirant employees stationed at the Potomac River plant, are focused on this commitment ... toward resolution of the specific regional air quality issue recently discovered in Alexandria."

She concluded her letter to Warner by recognizing the role of DEQ. "We are committed to working with DEQ as we endeavor to return our plant to full service and restore electric reliability to acceptable levels, while, importantly, protecting public health and the environment."

Johnson's reference to "electric reliability" tied directly into supplemental comments submitted by Potomac Electric Power Company to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of their deliberations on allowing a total restart of the Mirant plant.

In referring to Mirant's restart of Unit 1 PEPCO release said, "Notwithstanding Mirant's recent actions (to restart Unit 1), there still remains significant and continuing reliability concerns in the region that require additional mitigation ... Reactivation of this unit is but a small step in restoring reliability of electric service in the District of Columbia region."

Electric reliability refers to backup power production that compensates for interruptions to electric service. Pushing for additional units to be brought on-line, PEPCO stated, "Further steps must be taken by Mirant in order to restore the same degree of reliability that existed prior to Mirant shutting down."

However, PEPCO also opened the door for the permanent shut down of the Mirant plant. PEPCO noted its "longer term solution to the reliability issued ... includes a proposed transmission reinforcement construction plan, which is estimated to take between 18 and 24 months."

PEPCO's statement to FERC said, "Once these additional facilities are constructed, the Plant will not be necessary to protect reliability. For this reason, PEPCO is left with no choice but to build the new transmission line on an expedited basis."

PEPCO also joined the chorus of those telling Mirant to clean up its operations while it is functioning. "There is no reason why Mirant cannot make necessary modifications that will allow the Plant to operate more than one unit while ensuring protection of human health and the environment."

They told FERC "Mirant itself has recognized but not acted upon" various actions that could be taken to make operations more environmentally sound and healthful.

PEPCO said these actions, "include everything from temporary skid arrangements ... which can be accomplished in a short three-month period" to "use of low sulfur coal, lime injection into the gas stream, combining stacks, raising stacks, and increasing stack temperatures."

AS OF SEPT. 27, FERC had not taken any action on the request by PEPCO and the D.C. Public Service Commission to order restart of the entire plant, according to FERC spokesman Brian Lee. Mirant is operating Unit 1 only.

Following Mirant's decision to restart Unit 1, the City of Alexandria filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to amend their complaint in the action of the consent decree, according to attorney John Britton, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, acting for the city.

"This motion sought to add things to our complaint in compliance with the Clean Air Act, which calls for 60 days notice," Britton said. The motion states, "The granting of Alexandria's request to file an Amended Compliant will not disrupt this proceeding or unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the parties."

A primary point of the motion is, "Mirant's one-boiler scenario relies on unproven emission rates, unconfirmed modeling impacts, and inaccurate operating assumptions. Mirant ignores the effects on particulate matter emissions of the daily ramp-up and ramp-down of the boiler unit necessitated by its cycling schedule and limited hours of operation."

It also accuses Mirant of failing "to supply the test data necessary to support its emission values" that formed the basis for the restart. Britton's motion concludes Mirant's operation of the plant, "even at its limited level, fails to achieve compliance" with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

He asks the court to:

1. Permanently enjoin Mirant from operating

2. Order Mirant to take appropriate actions to "remedy, mitigate, and offset the harm to public health and the environment caused by the violations to the Clean Air Act"

3. Award Alexandria costs of this action

4. "Grant such other relief, including but not limited to civil fines and penalties, as the court deems just and proper."

Mayor William D. Euille said, "The city remains very concerned that Mirant is acting in a very unilateral manner and with little regard for the health impacts associated with their decision to restart the Potomac River plant."