Groups file com­plaint over Brandy­wine plant

Claim civil rights are be­ing vi­o­lated due to con­cen­trated black pop­u­la­tion in vicin­ity

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

Prince Ge­orge’s County is filled with a ma­jor­ity African-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion. Just un­der 65 per­cent of the county is African-Amer­i­can.

That’s why Earthjus­tice, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, along with the Patux­ent River­keeper or­ga­ni­za­tion and Brandy­wine South­ern Re­gion Neigh­bor­hood Coali­tion, are ar­gu­ing that the state’s Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion vi­o­lated civil rights by grant­ing a cer­tifi­cate of pub­lic con­ve­nience and ne­ces­sity to Panda Power Funds for Panda Brandy­wine’s nat­u­ral gas power plant — the fifth one added within 13 miles of Brandy­wine.

Brandy­wine’s pop­u­la­tion is 72 per­cent African-Amer­i­can and the area is ma­jor­ity ru­ral, but is des­ig­nated as a heavy in­dus­trial zone in Prince Ge­orge’s County ac­cord­ing to the county’s plan­ning board.

Neil Gorm­ley, an at­tor­ney with Earthjus­tice rep­re­sent­ing the Patux­ent River­keeper or­ga­ni­za­tion and Brandy­wine South­ern

Re­gion Neigh­bor­hood Coali­tion, said the com­mu­nity has been con­cerned with this is­sue long be­fore the com­plaint was filed with the re­spec­tive de­part­ments.

The end goal for them, Gorm­ley said, is to have pol­icy change and a more in­clu­sive process for a com­mu­nity that has gone voice­less for “a long time.”

“They es­sen­tially said, ‘We don’t see any ev­i­dence of in­ten­tional racist con­duct here and that’s the end of the mat­ter.’ And that ac­tu­ally mis­un­der­stands the Civil Rights Act,” Gorm­ley said. “When ac­tions are go­ing to dis­pro­por­tion­ally im­pact mi­nori­ties on the ba­sis of race that is a vi­o­la­tion of the Civil Rights Act.”

Gorm­ley said the process the com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to go through is a “sys­tem­atic prob­lem.” The process sys­tem­at­i­cally ig­nores en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and racial im­pact, he said.

“The Mary­land agen­cies need a more in­clu­sive process,” Gorm­ley said.

Fred Tut­man, a Brandy­wine cit­i­zen and a mem­ber of the Patux­ent River­keeper or­ga­ni­za­tion, said it’s not only “black lives that don’t mat­ter. Black peo­ple don’t mat­ter ad­min­is­tra­tively,” he said. “This is sys­tem­i­cally screwed up.”

Bill Pen­tak, the vice pres­i­dent of in­vestor re­la­tions and pub­lic af­fairs at Panda Power Funds, said the ar­gu­ment that the power plant is sys­tem­at­i­cally or covertly racist “holds no ground” with the com­pany which has lis­tened to the com­mu­nity.

“It’s ab­so­lutely with­out merit,” Pen­tak said. “The com­plaint wasn’t filed against us, it was filed against the state of Mary­land. And the PSC went through an ex­tremely com­pre­hen­sive re­view prior to is­su­ing our cer­tifi­cate.”

The state and it’s process have been “fully com­pli­ant” with the Civil Rights Act, Pen­tak said.

But Tut­man said the process in ques­tion is not a “le­git­i­mate one.” The pub­lic ser­vice com­mis­sion’s sys­tem does not in­clude de­tails from pre­vi­ous ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted, he said, and the com­mu­nity was told that those de­tails “were not rel­e­vant” to the process.

“They never looked holis­ti­cally,” Tut­man said. “If they turn in the right pa­per­work, they can get this no prob­lem. So what’s to stop five, six, seven, eight more? It’s the same in­jus­tice.”

The scope of the im­pacts on all power plants in the area needs to be looked at as a whole and not just in­di­vid­u­ally, Tut­man said. It does not make sense to not con- sider the area that they are op­er­at­ing in.

The process also needs to be more in­clu­sive of the com­mu­nity, Tut­man said. In or­der to get in on the process and com­bat the ap­pli­ca­tion, he said, a lawyer is needed for pa­per­work and fil­ing. And many of the peo­ple who are against the process, he said, can­not af­ford le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion so eas­ily.

The bur­den needs to be on the ap­pli­cant, not those in the com­mu­nity, Tut­man said.

Tori Leonard, a spokes­woman for the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, said the com­mis­sion is cur­rently craft­ing a re­sponse to the com­plaint and would not com­ment on the mat­ters of the ap­proval process and the com­plaint at this time.

Pen­tak said the process was in­clu­sive of the com­mu­nity and Panda made con­ces­sions to Prince Ge­orge’s County in co­op­er­a­tion with com­mu­nity re­quests.

Panda agreed to hire lo­cally from the area, keep the plant from ris­ing over 100 feet on its build­out, chose mi­nor­ity busi­ness en­ter­prises to work with for con­struc­tion and pushed the power plant back off of Brandy­wine Road by more than 500 feet to re­duce vis­i­bil­ity.

“I have met with in­ter­ested home­own­ers in their homes, busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tions and elect- ed of­fi­cials,” Pen­tak said. “We have met with a lot of peo­ple and stand by the fact that we have a lot of sup­port for this project.”

But Tut­man said he is not buy­ing it. If the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion lis­tened to the peo­ple in the area, the plant would not be go­ing up.

“If they rep­re­sent us, they’re surely not our ad­vo­cates. That’s ridicu­lous. To even ar­gue that in front of a com­mu­nity is a rank in­sult,” Tut­man said.

To have a clus­ter of five power plants all grouped to­gether within 13 miles of each other was al­ways go­ing to be prob­lem­atic, Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed So­ci­ety, said. En­vi­ron­men­tally, it is go­ing to have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the land sur­round­ing it in both Charles and Prince Ge­orge’s Coun­ties.

This is “sprawl pipe­line de­vel­op­ment,” Long said, with mul­ti­ple pipe­lines be­ing de­vel­oped around the Keyes Power Plant, Mat­ta­woman Power Plant and, soon, the new Brandy­wine Power Plant.

“Th­ese plants have to run gas pipe­lines down to a huge pipe­line that crosses the county. They go through swamps and wet­lands when they do that,” Long said.

Pen­tak said the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact from the new nat­u­ral gas plant is go­ing to be min­i­mal. The power plant will also re­cy­cle wa­ter for clean­ing from the Pis­cat­away Waste­water treat­ment plant in­stead of us­ing potable wa­ter, which will keep ni­tro­gen buildup from out of the stream ways in the area.

If the plant was go­ing to have an ad­verse ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment, Pen­tak said, the plant would have never got­ten state and fed­eral ap­provals in the first place.

“The state of Mary­land didn’t take our word for any­thing,” Pen­tak said. “They ques­tioned everything. They went through it. They were very, very care­ful. They asked lots of ques­tions.”

The power plant is dis­ap­point­ing, Tut­man said, be­cause county of­fi­cials “only see the rev­enue” stream­ing in. The ini­tial in­vest­ment the com­pany is bring­ing will help the cit­i­zens, but many of the jobs are tech­ni­cally pre­cise and call for spe­cial­iza­tion.

Panda and the PSC have both high­lighted pos­i­tives, Tut­man said, but the big pic­ture shows a dif­fer­ent story.

“You can cher­ryp­ick any­thing you want. But look at the down­side. There’s no ev­i­dence that any­body looked at po­ten­tial down­sides,” Tut­man said. “The prop­erty val­ues, the his­toric com­mu­nity, the de­sire to live here. None of th­ese things were con­sid­ered ger­mane or rel­e­vant.”

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