Mirant has begun a public relations campaign to identify those individuals and groups who believe the dialogue concerning the Potomac River Generating Station has "for too long has been one-sided."
At least that is how Josh Boisvert, spokesperson for "Bright Ideas Alexandria," explained his organization's recent mail and telephone efforts to "identify individuals and organizations in Alexandria that support the plant's continued operation."
This latest effort, funded by "Mirant corporation, plant employees, unions, businesses, and individual sources," according to Boisvert, kicked off last week with a brochure mailing to selected residences, a telephone survey, and a Web site. The latter, at this time, is merely a two-paragraph explanation of the group's goals with a form urging people to sign up "so we can let you know when the site officially opens."
Above the sign-up form is the statement: "We all want what is best for Alexandria. Unfortunately the debate about the future of the Potomac River Generating plant has become bitter and nasty. Our goal is to bring moderation to this debate, present the facts, and find solutions that benefit us all."
It also states the purpose of the Web site is to "cut through the clutter and the spin and try to make sense of this complicated issue." However, telephone interviewers will only speak with those who first agree that "Mirant is needed for electricity needs in Northern Virginia." If the person called answers "no," according to several that have received a Bright Ideas call, the caller immediately hangs up.
Ironically, the Potomac River Generating Station is a wholesaler and does not supply power directly to Northern Virginia. It is operated primarily to protect the power reliability grid for the District of Columbia. Which is where Boisvert resides and maintains his office, describing himself as a "neighbor" of Alexandria.
Their brochure has the picture of a light bulb with a tree inside
and a person lying in the grass, a flower between their toes, and
clear blue sky overhead. It is entitled "for Energy - for the
Environment." As one recipient of the brochure described it, "This is a fitting image for Mirant: a corpse, pushing up daisies."
The return address on the brochure is 107 S. West St, PMD 767, Alexandria. That is the location of the Old Town UPS store that also contains rental mail drop boxes.
Boisvert described himself as "an independent consultant" who has worked "on campaigns and with community organizations." Mirant's primary public relations firm for the PRGS account, "Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide," is also located in the District.
Neither Tony Bullock, executive vice president, Ogilvy, representing Mirant and PRGS, nor Felicia J. Browder, corporate communication manager, Mirant, based in Atlanta,GA, would comment on the Bright Ideas campaign. Bullock deferred to Browder, and Browder deferred to Boisvert.
\WHEN ASKED to identify more specifically the makeup of the core support group for the campaign, Boisvert said, "We are not disclosing all our supporters right now. We don't want to get specific about the number of individuals that are supporting our efforts. But, we will be taking a more public stance in the near future."
Boisvert indicated that this was not a new idea. "I was actually approached last year to develop this," he said.
However, in July 2006 Mirant initiated another telephone. That campaign was conducted by Frederick Polls, a firm headed by Keith Frederick, and identified at that time as being Alexandria based by Darlene Snow, executive vice president, Ogilvy, then overseeing the Mirant account at the DC public relations firm.
Coupled with that poll was a postcard from Mirant to residents living in proximity to the PRGS. It invited them to view the plant's new Web site and "take a survey of how we (Mirant) are doing."
As noted last July by Elizabeth Chimento, a leader in the efforts to close the plant, "I began receiving calls from Alexandrians near the plant who were irate that they had been tricked into responding to a "brief public opinion poll" by phone which began innocuously and then turned into a highly loaded series of questions about Mirant exclusively."
One such recipient of that unsolicited poll was Powhatan Street resident Patricia Dalton. Her reaction to Chimento at that time was
that the interview questions were "a series of editorial comments
all favorable to Mirant and unfavorable to the City's efforts to curb their activities."
Dalton also felt it was imperative "to obtain the contents of the survey, and identify factually inaccurate information imbedded in the survey, and provide the public with a balanced picture of the situation." Mirant did not release the outcome of that poll. That same concern has been expressed in this instance due to the fact that only those answering positively to the lead question are being interviewed.
When asked why he was trying to skewer the results by interviewing only like minded recipients of his firm's calls, Boisvert answered, "I have found a large number of people throughout the community (Alexandria) who support this plant. That is who we are trying to reach." He indicated he was more than aware of an organized opposition to the plant.
"As we have reached out into the community we have uncovered a large group who have not spoken out because they feel intimidated. Most of our efforts are focusing on grass roots support of PRGS within the community," he said
"They will be speaking out in the future at public meetings, to community groups, civic associations and others. We are finding a large core of support for expanding the dialogue. We plan to have individuals speak out, not Mirant representatives," Boisvert said.
However, he refused to identify any of these supporters specifically.
His rationale as to why these PRGS supporters have not spoken out over the last several years was that "most people in these situations are fearful of speaking out because they are in the minority." When informed that this is rarely the case in Alexandria, where both sides of any issue seem to have no trouble facing their counterparts eyeball to eyeball, Boisvert stuck to his rationale.
IN AN ANALYSIS of the "Bright Ideas" survey, City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa made the following observations:
"‘Bright Ideas Alexandria’ claims the Mirant Potomac River Generating Station: 1. Has taken drastic measures to reduce its environmental impact; 2. Meets stricter international standards for operating in an environmentally responsible fashion; 3. Eliminated more than 99.7 percent of their total output of ash, dust and soot; and 4. Supplies electricity with minimal environmental impacts."
Pessoa claims the facts tell a different story. He noted:
"At a hearing on Monday, March 26, 2007, one member of Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board noted that, using Mirant U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, these social and economic costs total between 100 and 200 million dollars every year.
"Mirant's use of Trona increases concentrations of arsenic and selenium in the plant's fly ash; these toxins are known to enter the food chain and harm aquatic life, and releases of these toxins into the environment are inadequately monitored.
"Mirant's production of carbon dioxide, the leading "greenhouse gas," is worse than before.
"Mirant's failure to act responsibly on February 23 (the day of the SO2 exceedance) is just the latest environmental violation at the plant."
In their brochure, "Bright Ideas Alexandria" makes the following statement: "Too often scientific facts are ignored when they get in the way of a good argument. We formed Bright Ideas Alexandria to make sure this doesn't happen -- to bring common sense and factual evidence to the discussion of the future of the Potomac River Station.
"Our coalition of citizens, workers, businesses, and unions all agree that we want the best for Alexandria: a clean and healthy city, good jobs and a strong economy, and a celebration of the diversity that makes our community special."
As Pessoa characterized the survey, "First we had downwash and now hogwash."