Md. seeks air mon­i­tor near Wag­ner plant

Move comes af­ter res­i­dents ex­press con­cern over safety

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Scott Dance Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group re­porter Amanda Yea­ger con­tributed to this ar­ti­cle. sdance@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/ss­dance

Re­spond­ing to res­i­dents wor­ried that the air near their homes isn’t safe to breathe, Mary­land en­vi­ron­ment of­fi­cials say they hope to in­stall an air-qual­ity mon­i­tor near a coal power plant in Anne Arun­del County.

The Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment is ex­plor­ing whether the fed­eral gov­ern­ment or the owner of the H.A.Wag­ner Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion can pay for the equip­ment, the agency’s sec­re­tary wrote Mon­day in a let­ter to the Greater Pasadena Coun­cil.

Some Pasadena res­i­dents be­came alarmed last sum­mer when the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Protection Agency said con­di­tions around the plant over the past three years did not meet a fed­eral stan­dard for sul­fur diox­ide pol­lu­tion. The EPA re­quired the state and the plant owner to col­lab­o­rate on a plan to clean the emis­sions.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion had chal­lenged the find­ing, say­ing the state’s mod­els sug­gest the air is meet­ing fed­eral pol­lu­tion stan­dards.

That led the Pasadena res­i­dents to re­quest that an air mon­i­tor be in­stalled to set­tle the dis­pute.

“It may be an in­formed guess, but it’s still a guess,” Al­lan Straughan, chair­man of the Pasadena coun­cil, said of the ex­ist­ing data. “It’s a cal­cu­lated num­ber, not an ob­served num­ber.”

He said the state’s will­ing­ness to pur­sue the project was en­cour­ag­ing.

“It sounds like they’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” Straughan said. He had not yet seen the let­ter from En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Ben Grum­bles, which the de­part­ment pro­vided to The Bal­ti­more Sun.

Grum­bles wrote that the state is fo­cused on work­ing with the plant to en­sure it’s in com­pli­ance, but added that in­stalling a mon­i­tor to gather more pre­cise data is worth­while.

“The De­part­ment rec­og­nizes the fact that res­i­dents of Pasadena and else­where would want an ab­so­lute as­sur­ance that air qual­ity is not harm­ful to their health,” he wrote.

He said the state is work­ing with the EPA to de­ter­mine if some of the sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars in fed­eral money al­lo­cated to lo­cal air qual­ity re­search could go to­ward the Wag­ner mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment, or if other fed­eral money is avail­able.

Grum­bles also said the state asked Raven Power, the plant’s owner, to con­sider vol­un­tar­ily in­stalling a mon­i­tor at or near the plant.

A spokesman for Talen En­ergy, par­ent com­pany of Raven Power, said the com­pany is “in dis­cus­sions” about the state’s re­quest and de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

EPA’s mod­els sug­gest un­healthy lev­els of sul­fur diox­ide waft from the plant across north­ern Anne Arun­del County and south­ern Bal­ti­more County.

The EPA de­clared July 1 that parts of Anne Arun­del and Bal­ti­more coun­ties within 17 miles of the Wag­ner plant are ex­ceed­ing al­lowed sul­fur diox­ide lev­els. The owner of the H.A. Wag­ner Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion, a coal power plant in Anne Arun­del County, says it is in dis­cus­sions about the state’s re­quest to in­stall an air mon­i­tor. The agency said it did not have enough in­for­ma­tion to de­ter­mine if the air-qual­ity stan­dard is be­ing met in Bal­ti­more, though the city also is within the 17-mile ra­dius.

The agency con­sid­ers it a pub­lic health risk if power plants or in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties too of­ten av­er­age more than 75 parts per bil­lion of sul­fur diox­ide emis­sions within an hour. The pol­lu­tant can cause lung dam­age linked to res­pi­ra­tory and car­dio­vas­cu­lar ill­nesses.

The EPA used three years’ worth of data from the plant and data on weather con­di­tions, among other fac­tors, to model pro­jec­tions of air qual­ity over that pe­riod. Both the EPA and the Sierra Club, which had pressed the EPA to act, es­ti­mated the Wag­ner plant ex­ceeds that limit at least four times a year.

EPA of­fi­cials said that typ­i­cally, the agency uses mon­i­tor­ing data, not mod­els, to en­force air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions.

Mary­land of­fi­cials have mean­while ar­gued that mon­i­tor­ing data would show that the air around the plant is meet­ing the sul­fur diox­ide stan­dards.

The clos­est air mea­sure­ments to the Wag­ner plant are taken in Es­sex; the next clos­est come from near Wash­ing­ton.

EPA of­fi­cials al­ready ad­vised the Pasadena group it was up to the state whether to in­stall a mon­i­tor.

State law­mak­ers were skep­ti­cal of ef­forts to in­crease mon­i­tor­ing.

“MDE needs to de­ter­mine whether [money] would be bet­ter spent with a mon­i­tor­ing de­vice or on some type of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­prove­ment,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nic Kipke, a Repub­li­can from Pasadena.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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