For only the second time in recent memory the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board has taken back the New Source Review Analysis and State operating permit process from the Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Quality. It occurred Monday at the conclusion of a public hearing on Mirant’s Potomac River Generating Station.
Held at the VDEQ Piedmont Region Office in Glen Allen, Va., the board heard testimony from more than 20 speakers regarding Mirant’s operations. Those speakers included State Sen. Patricia Ticer (D-30), State Dels. Brian Moran (D-46) and David Englin (D-45), and Tim Aiken representing U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8), Alexandria City Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper, attorney John Britton, representing the city, and William Skrabak, division chief, Environmental Quality, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Department.
In addition there were 16 Alexandria residents who spoke about the plant’s operations and their health problems. Leading the citizen contingent were Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertel who have spearheaded the effort to close the 50-plus-year-old coal-fired facility in north Old Town.
Mirant representatives were present but chose not to speak, according to Pepper. “Instead they asked if they could have an opportunity to make a presentation at a future time,” Pepper said.
When contacted about the board’s decision to take control of the NSR and permitting process, Deborah Bolton, vice president and general counsel, Mirant, said, “Who ever has control of the permitting process we will work with them.” That permitting process is in question due to planned stack construction at the plant.
In his presentation, Britton requested that the board take three actions:
1. Order PRGS as of July 1, 2007 to cease operations and desist from causing or contributing to air pollution episodes or any violation of ambient air quality standards.
2. Require PRGS to submit an application for a construction permit and impose a comprehensive and rigorous review for air pollution impacts and pollutant control technology consistent with provisions of board regulations.
3. Establish a local air pollution control district comprising affected areas of Alexandria City and a local air pollution control committee to monitor and report activities and compliance of PRGS with board regulations and orders.
Following Britton’s presentation the board indicated they would consider the requests, according to Pepper.
IN THEIR TESTIMONY both Chimento and Hertel emphasized the responsibility of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and VDEQ for insuring the health safety of Alexandria citizens. “And so far, there are gaping safety holes that are unjustifiable,” said Hertel.
Chimento cited four specific dates when “incidents have occurred which have increased Alexandrians’ concerns that their health is not being protected, especially the 4,000 of us who reside in close proximity to the facility.” The incidents she identified were:
v Between May 25, 2006 and August 2006 there have been 106 opacity exceedances (excess pollution from the plant) beyond the six minute capacity limit. In addition, four more occurred in August.
vAug. 8 two exceedances beyond the opacity six minute limit (one lasting 50-plus minutes)
v Aug. 12 one exceedance of six minute limit
v Aug. 30 one exceedance of six minute limit plus fly ash “pouring out of the silo for at least two and one half hours continuously.” That brought forth a warning from DEQ, according to Chimento.
“My frequent conversations with DEQ, regarding the August incidents, have resulted in confusion, frustration, delays and inaction,” she said. “A thorough NSR analysis ... is imperative.”
Her reaction to DEQ was buttressed by Hertel in his testimony. “DEQ officials respond with inconsistent and diverging answers depending with whom we talk. Ultimately the DEQ believes that the power plant was there first, but it was not. The Northeast neighborhood was built in the twenties, nevertheless, we keep hearing that we should have known better than to move next to the plant,” he said.
In his statement to the board, presented by his staff aide Tim Aiken, Congressman Jim Moran told board members, “There are three important factors you need to appreciate about this power plant that merit your special attention: 1. Its prior history of violations, dishonesty, and disregard for the local community’s health and state regulations; 2. Its urban location and proximity (less than 300 yards) to high rise residential buildings; and 3. The presence of downwash, where under certain weather conditions that occur more than 50 days each year, exhaust from the plant’s stacks travel horizontally and back down to the ground subjecting local residents to unacceptable high levels of pollution.”
Moran emphasized, “All three factors have lead me to conclude that this plant must be shut down. Indeed, its days would be numbered if the federal government had not backed away from an aggressive New Source Review standard.”
He told the board, “You must fill the void left by the federal government. Virginia is vested with considerable power to regulate operations at the Potomac River plant. This plant merits special attention. I encourage you to create a local advisory board and provide the staffing needed to ensure that future incidents are properly recorded and thoroughly investigated.”
Following the testimony of all those in attendance, the board voted unanimously to “take back jurisdiction,” according to Chimento. The practical effect of that remains to be seen.