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State DEQ Pushes Feds About Mirant

Mirant complains to State officials about City health warning.

On March 1 David K. Paylor, director for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, sent a letter addressed to both Samuel W. Bodman , secretary, US Department of Energy, and Donald S. Welsh , regional administrator, Region Three, US Environmental Protection Agency, requesting they "investigate the manner in which Mirant was operating on February 23" the day of the SO2 exceedance.

As of March 13 he is still awaiting a response.

Paylor's letter was triggered by his "deep concerns [about] this situation" — the recorded exceedance on the day in question. He specifically asked the two federal officials to "determine if any violations of the ACO (Administrative Compliance Order by Consent) occurred."

Paylor informed them, "The Commonwealth would expect EPA to take all appropriate enforcement actions if the provisions of the Order were violated." He also sent an information request to Mirant to "determine if any Virginia air quality regulations were violated."

Mirant has maintained that the exceedance that day was caused by unusual weather conditions. It was also disclosed that the Trona train for Unit One at the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) was inoperable that day. Conversely, all five of Mirant's coal-fired units were operating at 75 to 100 percent capacity.

Under an order from the US DOE, Mirant is required to operate at full facility when line outages occur at Pepco in order to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid, in compliance with PJM Interconnect, regional electricity managers for the grid. However, as noted by Paylor in his letter, PRGS is also "required to maximize the operation of its pollution control equipment, including the use of Trona, during Line Outage Situations" per the ACO.

During a telephone conversation on March 6 with Debra Bolton, vice president and assistant general counsel for Mirant, stated, "There is no way we could have been running as we were and not had an exceedance. The exceedance that day was due to the weather."

When asked about the failure of the Trona train serving Unit One, Bolton at first discounted that as a contributing factor. Later she acknowledged she "could not say for sure one way or the other" if its inorperability played a role in the 11 percent exceedance of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) that day.

ON FEB. 28, EPA Region Three Director Judith M. Katz, sent a letter to Robert Discoll, CEO, Mirant Potomac River LLC, notify him that Mirant had a responsibility "to provide information as part of an EPA investigation to determine whether or not the Potomac River plant is complying" with the ACO.

That letter included a series of requests for information pertaining to the plant's operations and the use of Trona. She stated the information should be submitted within 10 days of receipt of the letter.

However, Katz did point out that Mirant is entitled to assert a business confidentiality claim, except that no such claim can be made with respect to emission data. If Mirant made no confidentiality claim, Katz stated, all information submitted to EPA "may be made available to the public with no further notice." Both time frames remain open.

ON THE SAME day as the exceedance, Feb. 23, Discoll sent a letter to Gail D. Jaspen, deputy secretary, Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and Robert B. Stroube, M.D., Virginia State Health Commissioner, challenging the motives of Charles Konigsberg, Jr., M.D., Alexandria Health Director, in issuing a health warning alert pertaining to PRGS based on a letter from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Citing the ambivalence of the ATSDR to link PRGS with air borne health hazards, Driscoll maintained, "the City of Alexandria, supported by the Alexandria Health Department, has clearly misinterpreted" the ATSDR letter. He also stated that Konigsberg's intention to issue a health alert could, in itself, be harmful to Alexandria residents.

"We believe issuing public health warnings or statements connected with PRGS would be erroneous and contrary to the public interest. Erroneous health warnings could result in undue and unnecessary alarm among the citizens of the City of Alexandria that could result in mental anguish, reduction in local property values and other serious, harmful effects," Driscoll wrote to the two State officials.

He also suggested that the Alexandria Health Department was acting for political reasons rather than on behalf of legitimate community health concerns.

"The City of Alexandria has a publicly-stated goal of forcing

closure of PRGS," Driscoll stated.

"While some may, for their own political and commercial ends, put roadblocks in PRGS's efforts to improve further its environmental performance and otherwise unlawfully attempt to force closure of the plant, we do not believe it is appropriate for the Alexandria Department of Health or the Virginia Department of Health, to become politicized by participating in, or in any way be associated with, actions in furtherance of these ends," Driscoll wrote.

Rather than calm the waters pertaining to the exceedance and the issuance of the health alert by the City Health Department, Driscoll's letter only seemed to exacerbate the schism between Mirant and the City.

In the words of City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa, "Mirant's letter of February 23 is a clear and crude attempt to intimidate, hinder and impede Virginia's public health officers from the faithful performance of their duty to protect the health of Alexandria residents."