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Air Board Regains Control

Next meeting between all parties set for July 26 in Richmond .

Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board is officially back in the driver's seat in deciding whether or not Mirant Corporation needs a permit to initiate its stack merge at the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS).

That decision was recently made by David Paylor, director of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ), according to William Hayden, public information for VDEQ. "Director Paylor decided it would be appropriate for the Air Board to decide if a permit is needed for Mirant's stack merge," he said.

"His decision is based on conversations he has had with various people over the last couple of weeks. We expect the Air Board to deal with this at their October meeting," Hayden said. "This is a complex situation that needs a lot of attention. We would hope that Mirant would hold off on doing anything about a stack merge until a decision is made by the Board."

Debra Bolton, vice president and assistant general counsel for Mirant Corporation, said, "We have no comments to make at this time."

A second meeting between Alexandria officials and representatives, Mirant officials, and representatives of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled for next Thursday, July 26, in Richmond.

A previous meeting, held on June 25 in Richmond, was facilitated by a Mark Rubin, senior advisor and deputy counsel to Gov. Timothy Kaine (D). That meeting was triggered by a notice received by Alexandria officials on June 19 stating that VDEQ was "strongly leaning toward" permitting Mirant to move ahead with the stack merge without first acquiring a State Operating Permit (SOP).

Prior to that meeting the City submitted a seven-page letter to Rubin detailing why VDEQ should not authorize Mirant to proceed with the stack merge without first receiving an State Operating Permit. Further discussions on that and other issues pertaining to the PRGS are planned for next Thursday's meeting, according to Kevin Hall, press secretary to the Governor.

"Discussion are still ongoing. The upcoming meeting is for the purpose of keeping the dialogue going between the various parties and possibly broker a resolution. The Governor's office is serving only as the facilitator to these meetings. The decision about permits is in the hands of the DEQ," Hall explained.

THE QUESTION about a permit for the stack merge was not made by the Air Board at their May 23 meeting in Alexandria, according to Hayden. "That's what is undecided," he said.

Since that May 23 meeting Mirant has sued VDEQ, and by association, the Commonwealth, to enforce the Consent Order. The City in turn has filed a petition in that same action requesting the right to intervene. Alexandria's request had to be re-filed June 28 due to Mirant rescinding their original action and filing a second action in Richmond Circuit Court. There has been no further development on either action at this time, according to Britton.

On July 13, Pepco officially notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it had completed work on its new transmission lines. Those lines, and their ability to sustain electrical reliability to the District of Columbia, have been one of the primary rationales impacting the need for the continued operation of the PRGS, according to FERC, VDEQ, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

On June 29, Paylor sent a letter to Robert Discoll, CEO, Mirant Mid-Atlantic, LLC, notifying him of VDEQ's requirement that the PRGS needed to return to operating under regular requirements as a result of the completion of the new Pepco lines.

"As of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 1, 2007, the Plant shall cease to operate under the Alternative Operating Scenario ... and shall thereafter comply with the terms and conditions of the Permit." In other words, all special conditions relative to the PRGS serving as a electric reliability source while Pepco completed its new lines was now canceled, according to the Paylor letter to Driscoll.

In response to the actions of VDEQ and DOE, Elizabeth Chimento, a leader in the city's actions against the operations of the PRGS, sent a memo thanking those that pressured the Governor's office to intervene in the stack merge issue. In reaction to Paylor's decision to refer the stack merge and SOP permit questions back to the Air Board, Chimento said, "The DEQ's decision continues the consistency of the Board's mandate to determine permitting issues for the Mirant facility."

IN ANOTHER development, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2008 Interior Appropriations bill calling for the federal study of the health effects of trona, a substance being used at the PRGS to reduce sulfur dioxide. However, questions have been raised as to its impact on increasing air borne particulates.

Moran's provision states, in part: "The only studies to date were conducted by industry and have determined that among a list of potential health hazards, repeated exposure can cause silicosis (a progressive lung disease) and possibly cancer, as stated on the Web site of Solvay Chemicals, the sole producer of refined trona in the U.S. Under a section titled environmental precautions, it also states "Should not be released into the environment."

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representative on the night of June 27 by a margin of 272-155. Moran serves as vice-chair of the Appropriations Interior subcommittee.