More than 30 Alexandria residents, joined by local and state elected officials, took their ire against the continued operation of the Mirant power plant to the four corners of King and Washington streets last Saturday morning carrying placards and chanting "We are not going away — we are here to stay!"
Lead by anti-Mirant local activists Ernie Lehmann and Dick Moose, who organized a previous rally outside the gates of Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) June 23, the group assembled at Tavern Square to hear pep talks by Lehmann, Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet, newly elected City Councilman Justin Wilson, and Virginia State Delegate David L. Englin (D-45).
"There are going to be more of these [protest rallies]. We want Mirant to know we are not going away. We are not just working for Alexandria. We are working for all of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia," Lehmann told the assembled group.
Aiming particular wrath at Ed Muller, chairman and CEO, Mirant Corporation, Lehmann said, "We want to become so visible, so ubiquitous, so prevalent that we raise a paranoia in Ed Muller so high that one morning, looking into his cup of coffee he sees our smiling faces — won't he be distressed? Our other message to Ed is clean up or clear out."
Not escaping the group's indictment was Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, who many accuse of complicity with Mirant as evidenced by several placards. In a pre-rally new release, Lehmann and Moose noted, "Despite the public's appeals, the Governor himself has yet to address the situation, let alone make good on promises to local environmental activists during his election campaign."
Emphasizing the need for increased involvement and expanding the awareness of the air quality concerns associated with the PRGS, Crenshaw-Van Fleet said, "It makes a big difference if you let people know of your concerns." That point was emphasized as the protestors marched through the Market Square Farmers Market where one shopper inquired "What's Mirant?"
Crenshaw-Van Fleet urged the group to "Introduce yourselves to new neighbors and tell them about Mirant; that Alexandria is working to close it, and what they can do to protect themselves." Addresses to Mirant's office in Marlboro, Md., and their headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., were given out urging participants to take the protest to those doorsteps.
The group also heard from Wilson and Englin. "As a new member of City Council I intend to keep up the fight. We love antiques in Old Town but we don't love antique power plants," Wilson said, referring to the coal fired plant's fifty year age.
"This is my top environmental concern in the General assembly. We all breathe the same air and this plant adversely affects everyone," said Englin.
"I am pushing for the State to require Mirant to notify everyone in this immediate region when they are firing up the plant. We need to broaden this effort. It's difficult in Richmond to make this more than just an Alexandria problem," he said.
"We need to make this not just a regional concern but a Statewide concern. If this can happen here it can happen anywhere. We all have the right to breathe clean air," Englin emphasized.
In addition to bringing the pressure directly to Mirant corporate offices, protesters were urged to keep pressure on the Governor's office to support the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board's decision requiring Mirant to obtain a State Operating Permit. That was also backed by the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Sierra Club, a co-sponsor of the rally, according to Ana Prados, of the club's Environmental Committee.
One handout urged people to "Ask Governor Kaine to ensure full implementation of the [Air Board’s] ruling in favor of the City." It then gave the Governor's phone and FAX numbers as well as e-mail address.
Promising continued events — coal gathering in August and a teach-in for September — rally announcements advised participants that Mirant's proposed stack merge, to combine its existing five smoke stacks into two, would only increase "Mirant's profitability and regional pollution." They accused State environmental officials of "disregarding the law and accepting at face value a deeply flawed analysis [pertaining to the stack merge] purchased by Mirant Corporation to support its petition."
The group spent approximately one hour on the four corners of King and Washington streets waving their placards and passing out literature to pedestrians and motorists. Of all there messages, the clearest and most emphatic was: "We are not going away — we are here to stay!"