Gov. Timothy Kaine, rightfully or wrongfully, was lumped in with Mirant Corporation and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) as supporting alleged air pollution over the health of Alexandria citizens during a demonstration last Saturday at Mirant's North Old Town Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS).
Sparking the demonstration was VDEQ's notification to city officials June 19 that they were "strongly leaning toward" allowing Mirant to proceed with its planned stack merge without a State Operating Permit (SOP). That would counteract the decision of the Air Pollution Control Board on May 23 requiring such a permit before proceeding with any stack merge at the PRGS.
"We received an e-mail from the Alexandria Democratic Committee this afternoon saying we need to get angry about this," said Ernest Lehmann, co-organizer of the rally along with Dick Moose, in kicking off the demonstration outside the plant gate opposite Marina Towers on Slaters Lane.
"This is part of our responsibility to make sure the Governor is listening to us. We are here to protest the actions of a rogue agency — DEQ. They are operating on their own with Mirant," Lehmann said.
"If they (DEQ) approve this stack merge this pollution will flow over the entire region. And, we have rumors the Governor is now involved with helping Mirant and not the citizens of Alexandria," he said.
"It is outrageous that DEQ, which should be working on behalf of the public's well-being, instead is aiding and abetting Mirant's continuing efforts to avoid the type of regulation that routinely applies to coal burning generating plants elsewhere," said Moose.
"The magic bullet in this fight is perseverance. We are going to keep doing this until [DEQ and the Governor] do what we want," Lehmann told the crowd of more than 60 demonstrators assembled outside the plant's gate with signs assailing both Kaine and Mirant.
"I propose we plan our next rally for Saturday, July 21, at the
intersection of Washington and King streets. That will get their attention," Lehmann said to rousing cheers and applause.
THE ONLY MEMBER of City Council to attend the rally, Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper, told the crowd, "It is nothing short of shameful for DEQ to override the Air Board. We (Council) will do everything possible to stop this. We will seek an injunction if necessary to prevent the proposed stack merge without a permit."
"On Tuesday, June 19, David Paylor, executive director, VDEQ, called to alert me to the fact that a new engineering analysis has been completed and it appeared that no permit would be needed to approve the stack merger plans. I was amazed to hear that," Pepper said.
"After reading the report, it was obvious that the engineering analysis was faulty; and Richard Storm, who performed it, has long been a consultant for Mirant, so he hardly serves as an independent voice," Pepper told the crowd.
She also revealed that she told Paylor "he and his office were supposed to be protecting the residents of Alexandria." She indicated that seemed to be the case until the last two years.
When she asked Paylor about the stories from neighbors concerning increased incidents of cancer, asthma, and soot on the surfaces of their homes, Pepper said Paylor's reaction was that "it was confusing to him." Pepper's response was, "I'll bet if he lived near the Mirant plant he wouldn't be confused as to what the cause of those problems was and what he would want done about it."
She also said she "cautioned him that sometimes regulators get too close to those programs, plants, and facilities they regulate. I suspect that fell on deaf ears. We need to be watching them (DEQ) very carefully."
Following Pepper to the stepladder podium was State Senator Patricia "Patsy" Ticer. "This stack merger will do nothing but help pollute all our neighbors. People in Arlington are working with us as well to stop this," she said.
Following the rally demonstrators marched from the Marina Tower side gate to the plant's main gate on North Royal Street with signs stating an alliance between Kaine and Mirant. They also received an instruction sheet titled "What You Can Do Today!" It listed three immediate actions: Call or e-mail the governor immediately "to protect our health by opposing the DEQ's intended stack merger without the required permit." Express support for the Mayor and Council. "They have been stalwart in seeking to compel Mirant to clean up its act." Write letters to the editors of area newspapers.
"THE VERY IDEA that DEQ should be working on behalf of Mirant and against the state's Air Pollution Control Board to open the way for a more widespread diffusion of harmful pollutants in our area is beyond comprehension. We are very shocked and disappointed with both DEQ and the Governor" Lehmann said.
Following a meeting on Monday in Richmond between representatives of the City of Alexandria, the Governor's Office, VDEQ, and the State Attorney General's Office, a decision on approving Mirant's planned stack merger without a state operating permit was postponed. No date for such a decision had been announced by press time.