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Mirant "Trona" Report Challenged

Alexandria and Mirant lock horns over censored report.

What is Mirant hiding This time?

That was the prime question leveled by U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8) and Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille in response to Mirant's report on its "Trona Injection Tests." Seventeen of the 21 page report were blacked out.

Standing in the shadow of Mirant's five-stack Potomac River Generating Station, Monday morning, Moran kicked off the joint press conference. "The reason we are here today is because we got a report that was less than informative. When you get a report that is blacked out page after page it makes you wonder. Something is amiss here. Mirant has not earned our trust."

The report dealt with injection tests at the north Old Town, 50 year old, coal fired power plant of a substance known as "trona." According to the report,"The purpose of these tests was to determine the capability of dry injection of trona to achieve substantial SO2 removal from the stack discharge, and the determination of other operating impacts from the trona injection, if any."

The tests were conducted between November 12 and December 23, 2005. According to the redacted "Business Confidential" report released March 1 Mirant claimed, "In summary, high SO2 removal from trona injection was demonstrated across the load range, and across various operational parameters. No adverse effects were seen from the trona injection."

From that statement on page 4 through page 20 of the report everything is blacked out. "We appealed to them to let the City determine if this test is working. Trona is a system that is not widely used. There is no comparison data," Moran said.

"Mirant's response was "Trust us." We can't do that. For years they said they were using low sulfur coal. That turned out to be not true. They say one thing to us and do another. We insist that before the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality makes any recommendation on the use of trona, the results and data must be

available to the City," Moran said.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, told the crowd assembled at Third and Fairfax streets, "We are not giving up. We will never compromise our position. We will continue to protect the citizens of this City."

Euille accused Mirant of "putting business interests ahead of the public health. The EPA (U.S.Environmental Protection Agency) has determined this plant poses a serious health hazard."

Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper said, "Mirant should be embarrassed to release such a report. Now is the time to close this plant."

City Councilman Paul Smedberg who serves as co-chair of the Environmental Committee noted, "Trona increases dangerous particulates" and accused Mirant of not being trustworthy in producing accurate study results. "Only public scrutiny prevented Mirant from cooking their downwash data," he said in reference to the study analyzing the effects of emission pollutants on nearby highrise buildings such as Marina Towers.

Smedberg called Mirant's offer to share profits from their trona trials with the City "outrageous. This is a public health issue not a corporate profit issue. Their offer is insulting."

His indignation arose from the final paragraph of a Mirant news release issued Monday morning prior to the press conference stating, "If the technology works we'll agree to share with the City of Alexandria any money we make from it."

City Councilman Andrew Macdonald interpreted this as, "They are trying to do something on the sly. That's exactly why we cannot trust them."

ALL OF THIS BROUGHT AN ANGRY response from Mirant's Executive Vice President and General Counsel S. Linn Williams. "Mirant has provided to the City of Alexandria full disclosure of all emissions and ground level concentrations that have resulted from our testing of innovative, new technologies at the Potomac River plant," Williams said.

"We have provided all information to the EPA and the Virginia DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality)," Williams said. He maintain the only information withheld from the City "is confidential, competitive information about the process and technology, which is still in development and for which Mirant is considering applying for a patent."

He accused City Council of "political posturing" motivated "by

upcoming city elections and not by legitimate concerns regarding environmental quality." Williams maintained, "We have invested substantial time, effort, creativity and money in our process and technology, and it seems unfair to try to make us disclose that to our competitors before we are ready."

Williams described trona as "a benign, naturally occurring mineral

with properties similar to baking soda. It is not volatile, flammable or combustible, and it has been approved for use by the EPA and the Virginia DEQ."

Williams further accused City Council of "more interested in fights than in reducing emissions" of wasting "nearly $1 million of the taxpayers' money on law suits and political harassment" and in "destroying the value of private property so that it can be turned over on the cheap to developers."

HOWEVER, AS NOTED by Euille at the press conference and by City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa during a speech to the Northeast Citizens Association "Mirant's own documentation has described this plant as "obsolete" when they were trying to reduce their tax assessment from $200 million to $20 million, and shift their rightful burden onto the residents."

Pessoa also countered Williams' claim of the City's legal expenditures by noting, "Mirant often spends wildly in an effort to clean up messes it has made. After a disastrous entanglement with Enron, the company incurred more than $85 million in lawyers' fees and expenses."

He also pointed out, "According to California's Attorney General, Mirant "profited by plundering the people of California" during the state's energy crisis. Charging Mirant with "breaking the law" and engaging in "manipulative and fraudulent schemes," the state sued the company - a suit the company eventually settled by paying $750 million."

Pessoa told the civic association, "In 2005, a year in which it posted a $1.3 billion loss, Mirant spent $17 million on lawyers and accountants in its bankruptcy proceedings; reports of the total tab in the multi-year bankruptcy exceeded $300 million." He went on to expose "hurtful environmental and health impacts of Mirant plants" in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York State and the Philippines.

"Mirant's hardened indifference to the people of Alexandria remains evident. Mirant said in one document that people with severe asthma don't exercise enough to feel the harmful effects of sulfur dioxide. Such a cold statement reflects the views of the leadership at Mirant and is insulting to individuals and families struggling with asthma and other respiratory illnesses," Pessoa said.

"Mirant is paying the lawyers and lobbyists, but we are paying the

price. For Mirant this is just business as usual," he said.

ON MARCH 15 Alexandria filed a Freedom of Information Request with Virginia DEQ. In making that request, attorney John B. Britton, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, stated, "Mirant has not and cannot show how such limited dissemination jeopardizes any of its business and trade interests. It is contrary to the public interest for Mirant to withhold the Trona Report by merely declaring it confidential."

Both Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertel were recognized by Moran and Smedberg for initiating the Mirant investigation four and a half years ago. "They based their original studies on science not on politics," Smedberg said.

Following the press conference, City Councilman Rob Krupicka who serves on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Airport Policy Committee, questioned the recent Federal Aviation Administration's decision to approve Mirant's proposal to raise the height of the plant's smoke stacks by approximately 50 feet.

"We (the Committee) are taking a close look at Mirant's ability to raise those stacks without endangering aircraft. The idea to do that is very difficult to believe. I'm certainly not convinced it can be done," Krupicka said.

Both Moran and Euille emphasized that the Potomac River Generating Plant, when operating at full capacity, "Is the largest single source of air pollution inside the Beltway. On average it emits 16,120 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2,500 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 83 pounds of mercury each year." The level of sulfur dioxide pollution exceeds federal air quality standards by 14 time the allowable limit in a 24 hour cycle, according to Moran and Euille.

Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said, "We are extremely concerned that emissions of PM2.5 (small particulates) may actually be increasing (with the introduction of trona). What we don't want is that years down the road we are told again that they did not know and regulatory agencies again claim ignorance of violation of standards."