In the past two weeks two highly significant developments have occurred impacting the on-going controversy between the Mirant Potomac River Generating Station and the City of Alexandria. Each could undermine the city’s efforts to have the plant shut down.
On Monday the long awaited, and debated, amended Clean Air Act consent decree was finally filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. There will now be a 30 day comment period.
Throughout the past 20 months Mirant Mid-Atlantic has been negotiating with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the State of Maryland to reduce harmful pollutants produced by its four generating stations. The Consent Degree submitted to the court calls for those pollutants to be reduced by nearly 29,000 tons annually.
Alexandria City and citizens will now have the opportunity to analyze and comment on that decree before the court issues a formal ruling as promised by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema during previous court arguments on the decree.
“The decree is now before the Court and there will be a 30 day public comment period. That will be our next move,” said attorney John Britton of Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis who has been arguing the city’s case against Mirant along with City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa.
Although Alexandria has not had a formal seat at the negotiating table it was made part of the Consent Decree process as a result of a ruling by Brinkema last year. That was the decision reached by Brinkema pertaining to Alexandria’s petition to intervene in the amended consent decree negotiations.
The decree now before the Court makes the following points:
v Mirant will cap nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions on all its plants in Maryland and Virginia including the Alexandria plant.
v Mirant will pay a $500,000 civil penalty to be divided between Virginia and the Federal Government.
v Mirant will spend at least $1 million to reduce particulate matter and other dust emissions at the Alexandria plant.
In a news release issued by EPA on Monday, Sue Ellen Woolbridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division said, “The reductions in NOx emissions required by this settlement will result in general improved air quality throughout the metropolitan area and the surrounding region.”
David K. Paylor, director, Virginia DEQ, said, “Bringing this complex case to a conclusion means we will see significant environmental improvements in the region, and millions of people will benefit.”
The original agreement was filed in September 2004. After receiving public comments on that agreement, the various parties negotiated changes. The present agreement is now subject to an additional 30 day public comment period. It is available on the U.S. Justice Department Web site at www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/mirant0406.html.
A WEEK PRIOR to the decree announcement, Mirant issued a news release announcing it had filed a patent application for its trona injection process now being undertaken at the Alexandria plant. It also released the full text of the previously redacted report explaining the procedures being undertaken in the trona experiment.
That report was previously released to the City of Alexandria. However, all but four of its 21 pages were blacked out. Mirant claimed this was done to protect the secrecy of its process because it intended to file for a patent on that process with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
That action was verified in a letter addressed to Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille dated April 25. It stated that the patent application had been filed April 18.
“With this filing we are now able to provide your office with a complete and unredacted version of the report titled, “Trona Injection Tests, Mirant Potomac River Station, Unit 1, November 12 to December 23, 2005” wrote Robert E. Driscoll, chief executive officer, Mid-Atlantic Region and senior vice president, Mirant Corporation.
“As you know, our use of trona on a trial basis has been subject to the review and oversight of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Mirant will continue to explore the potential benefits of trona as a means of reducing concentrations and emissions of sulfur dioxide at the Potomac River Generating Station as part of our commitment to environmental stewardship and to the health and safety of the citizens of Alexandria and the surrounding region,” Driscoll wrote.