Air board delays decision until public comment

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While the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board is now calling for public comment before making a ruling, the city is calling the latest decision a victory.

The Control Board met on Tuesday and, by a vote of 3-1, decided to solicit public comment on the two proposed orders under which Mirant may operate its Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria.

The Board had asked Mirant, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Alexandria to meet and resolve the differences in the order being proposed by Mirant and VDEQ and another order that the city had submitted.
We made every effort to reach an agreement but just werent able to do so, said Alexandria City Councilwoman Redella S. Del Pepper, who, along with Councilman Paul Smedberg, co-chairs the Mirant Monitoring Group for the city.
So, the Board decided to publish the two orders and ask for public comment. They are also publishing five questions on which they are asking for comment, said Alexandria City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa. The EPA administrative order under which Mirant is now operating the plant expires on June 1. We agree that the state needs to issue an order by that time to limit the operation of the plant or we are going to have real issues. The questions relate to that order that would be in effect until a final order is issued.

The city sees this as a victory. Basically, the Board did not allow VDEQ to issue the order that Mirant had agreed to and has opened the process for public input. They havent decided whether to hold a public hearing here in Alexandria but they might, Smedberg said.

According to Bob Driscoll, vice president for Mid-Atlantic operations for Mirant, On March 26, Mirant accepted the Air Boards directive that we work with the city and the Virginia DEQ to negotiate an acceptable plan for all for operating the Potomac River Generating Station. We have been in talks with the city and DEQ for the last couple weeks and have already made significant changes to the operations plan that we initially proposed at the March 26 meeting.

We have been very reasonable, working to negotiate a plan that would enable Mirant to continue to protect the environment while providing affordable, reliable, and essential energy. DEQ, the states environmental agency, and Mirant agreed to a Consent Order, which was presented to the board. 

The plan agreed to by both DEQ and Mirant includes very stringent limits that protect the NAAQS, and includes a solution to downwash. The city presented a plan that would not improve downwash or emissions and is largely consistent with the citys often expressed intention to shut down the plant. The Board presented its own plan, which had not been presented or discussed before. Mirants plan is based solely on what is important protecting the environment and providing reliable energy, Driscoll said.

The best outcome for the city, community and Mirant, according to Driscoll will be a plan that is based on science, data, and facts to achieve two vital objectives: protecting our environment and producing reliable energy. 

The Potomac River Generating Station intends to continue providing safe, reliable, affordable electricity. Mirant has made continuous environmental improvements since becoming owner of the Potomac River plant in 2000. We have a solution to the downwash issue and we proposed yesterday to undertake to meet requirements on overall emissions that exceed those required by current law; so far the city has been opposed to this solution and has obstructed its progress. In submitting our comments to the Air Board and continuing through this process, Mirant will maintain its focus on the facts and solutions. We simply want to address what is important protecting the environment while producing reliable energy period.

The Air Boards decision is part of an ongoing dispute between Mirant and the city over whether the Potomac River Generating Station presents a health risk to Alexandrians. The Air Quality Control Board will make a decision about issuing a state operating permit for the plant at its meeting in late May.

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