Hope Is in the Air

Court’s EPA Rul­ing Might Make a Dif­fer­ence Here

The Washington Post Sunday - - Close To Home - — Richard M. Moose — Mary C. Har­ris Alexan­dria rmooser@gmail.com mary­har­ris@ver­i­zon.net

On April 2, the Supreme Court made big news by an­nounc­ing a rul­ing that faulted the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion for re­fus­ing to reg­u­late green­house gas emis­sions. That same day the court is­sued a less no­ticed rul­ing — in En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense et al. v. Duke En­ergy Corp. — that strength­ens the prospect that dirty, old, coal-fired power plants, such as the one op­er­ated by Mi­rant Corp. in Alexan­dria, will be forced to clean up their acts at last, pro­vided the gov­ern­ment im­ple­ments the de­ci­sion.

As the rul­ing was an­nounced, Alexan­dri­ans re­ceived a color­ful brochure from a group called Bright Ideas Alexan­dria pro­ject­ing a pos­i­tive im­age of the 58-year-old Mi­rant plant.

The brochure states that the plant “sup­plies re­li­able and eco­nom­i­cal elec­tric­ity for our com­mu­nity’s grow­ing needs.” The truth is, Mi­rant’s Po­tomac River plant pro­vides no elec­tric­ity to Alexan­dria and, ac­cord­ing to Mi­rant’s own tes­ti­mony, has not done so since 1986. The elec­tric­ity Mi­rant gen­er­ates in Alexan­dria is gen­er­ally sold on the PJM North­east power grid, with some pro­vid­ing low-cost re­serve power for the Dis­trict — but not for long. Pepco has told the En­ergy De­part­ment that it won’t need backup from Mi­rant when new power lines are com­pleted in June.

The brochure states that Mi­rant has “elim­i­nated 99.7% of [its] to­tal out­put of ash, dirt and soot.” The fact is, Mi­rant’s 2006 pro­posal to in­crease the height of its smoke­stacks stated that plant dust or par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion is ex­pected to in­crease more than six times over 2002 and 2003 lev­els. That’s more than 2,700 ad­di­tional tons each year. More­over, sul­fur diox­ide emis­sions would rise from 3,200 tons an­nu­ally to more than 15,000 tons. Ac­cord­ing to a 2005 Mi­rant study, th­ese changes would prob­a­bly ex­ceed na­tional am­bi­ent air qual­ity stan­dards. Mi­rant has also added hun­dreds of tons of trona, a caus­tic pow­der that an En­ergy De­part­ment anal­y­sis found is likely to “dou­ble or triple the quan­tity of fly ash gen­er­ated by the plant.” This fly ash is driven in trucks on Alexan­dria streets en route to a land­fill in Prince Ge­orge’s County, and it can even­tu­ally leach into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Fur­ther­more, 2005 En­ergy De­part­ment data in­di­cate that the Mi­rant plant, as it op­er­ates now, could be ex­pected to re­sult an­nu­ally in as many as 23 pre­ma­ture deaths, 31 heart at­tacks among adults and 440 asthma at­tacks among chil­dren. The anal­y­sis projects that emis­sions from the plant will cause the loss of some 2,488 work­days by af­fected peo­ple. De­spite this grim sce­nario, the Bright Ideas brochure as­sures Alexan­dri­ans that Mi­rant wants to be part of the city’s “green fu­ture.” The fact is, Mi­rant wants to mod­ify the plant by merg­ing its smoke­stacks and to in­crease emis­sions above this year’s out­put, all the while con­tend­ing that this change is too mi­nor to re­quire up­grad­ing its pol­lu­tion con­trols, as nor­mally re­quired un­der the Clean Air Act.

Here is where the Supreme Court’s less pub­li­cized April 2 rul­ing en­ters the pic­ture. The rul­ing reaf­firmed the re­quire­ments of the Clean Air Act for the use of “best avail­able tech­nol­ogy” at old power plants that make changes and in­crease emis­sions. Mi­rant’s Po­tomac River plant is such a plant.

The more widely her­alded April 2 rul­ing is also rel­e­vant to Mi­rant’s op­er­a­tions. It de­ter­mined that green­house gases, such as car­bon diox­ide, are meant to be reg­u­lated by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency un­der the Clean Air Act when they can po­ten­tially en­dan­ger health and wel­fare. The En­ergy De­part­ment cal­cu­lates that the Mi­rant plant will pro­duce slightly more CO in 2007 than it did in 2006, or about 2 mil­lion tons.

This is not our idea of a green fu­ture. A coal-fired power plant is not com­pat­i­ble with a res­i­den­tial and his­toric area such as ours. If this plant is to con­tinue to op­er­ate, at the very least it should be re­quired to meet the same emis­sion stan­dards as power plants built in the past 10 years.

BY GER­ALD MARTINEAU — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Mi­rant Corp. coal-fired power plant abuts the Mount Ver­non bike trail along the Po­tomac River in Alexan­dria.

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