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DEQ To Approve Mirant Stack Merger

Air Board May 23 decision would be nullified by DEQ action.

Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is about to reverse the actions of the State Air Pollution Control Board concerning Mirant's ability to move forward with the planned "stack merger" at its Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) in north Old Town Alexandria.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the City was advised that DEQ intends to reverse their previous determination that Mirant's stack merger requires a permit under the Clean Air Act, according to City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa. As a result of that notification, the City has requested a meeting with Governor Tim Kaine's staff on Monday morning in Richmond.

"The City people asked for the meeting and we agreed. However, this is not up to the Governor's office — it is a determination by DEQ," said Kevin Hall, Governor's press secretary.

DEQ representatives will be in attendance at that meeting, according to William Hayden, spokesperson for DEQ.

"We did notify the City that we are strongly leaning toward determining that Mirant does not need a permit to proceed with its stack merger. Our evaluation has shown that if the stack merger is complete there would not be an increase in plant emissions," Hayden said.

That determination is based on a June 11 letter from Storm Technologies, Inc., a consulting firm in Albemarle, NC, to David Cramer, manager, Air Compliance & Permitting for Mirant PRGS. The subject of that letter was an evaluation of "Potomac River Stack Merge Project" to replace the boiler "Induced Draft" fans and "combine up to three boiler flue gas flows into one stack discharge."

In that letter, Richard F. Storm, a professional engineer registered in both North Carolina and New Jersey, determined that "by combining the flows ... into one stack discharge ... will not increase plant capacity or emissions."

Based on that evaluation, DEQ communicated their intention to the City to reverse the Air Board decision to require a state permit.

"DEQ's assessment is based purely on science and regulations. We

really don't know what the City is looking for in Monday's meeting," Hayden said.

ALTHOUGH HALL stated that no action from the State "is imminent" between now and Monday's meeting, City officials have heard that DEQ plans to make its official determination late Monday or early Tuesday.

"The time frame here is critical. We need to act right away," said Elizabeth Chimento, a civic leader in the City's effort to close the half-century old, coal-fired generating station. To that end, she distributed a "Mirant Alert" late Tuesday night calling for e-mails to be sent to Governor Kaine protesting DEQ's intended action.

In that alert she stated, "DEQ's action will short-circuit the State Air Pollution Control Board's May 23rd decision to refuse the stack merge as well as deny Alexandrians their statutory right to public participation in the permit process."

Referring to the Storm Technologies letter, Pessoa stated, "The City's view is that this letter does not establish any valid exemption from the Clean Air Act's permit requirement. Put simply, focusing exclusively on the size and effect of the proposed new 'Induced Draft' or boiler gas exhaust fans improperly divides the project into artificially fragmented parts."

Because of that, Pessoa maintained the Storm analysis is "not a legitimate factor in determining whether this project does or does not meet the regulatory test for a "modification" which triggers a permit requirement. In short, this letter is but a "red herring" justification for the reversal."

Pessoa further stated, "The City continues to maintain that instituting the stack merger without a permit is illegal, and that the stack merger, not being completed in conjunction with and regulated by a comprehensive operating permit as the Air Board envisioned, will result in dramatically increased pollution in Alexandria and elsewhere in the Commonwealth."

At the time of the Air Board decision to require a permit for the stack merger, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille stated, "Only with a State Operating Permit ... will we have the certainty of knowing exactly what Mirant is pumping into the air." That certainty would vanish if DEQ moves forward with its intention to authorize the stack merger sans permit.

Although Mirant was contacted several times Wednesday to gain their reaction to DEQ's planned move, they failed to respond by press time. Back on June 1, however, they announced that on May 31 they had filed suit in the Circuit Court of Richmond against the Air Board challenging the Board's authority to make its decision.