Emissions debated at Mirant hearing

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Years of contention over the Mirant power plants environmental impact on the city continued Friday when Virginias Department of Environmental Quality and the Air Pollution Control Board hosted a hearing for a permit that, if approved, would merge the smokestacks at the plant.

City officials, public citizens and representatives from the Mirant Corporation were also in attendance.

The coal-burning plant currently has five smokestacks but Mirant representatives said merging them into two would reduce harmful emissions. The plant began construction on the stack merge last year without a permit, prompting DEQ order to halt the project. 

Government officials and concerned citizens said the outlined permit is not comprehensive because it lacks limits on fine particulate matter, or PM-2.5, a pollutant that easily penetrates the human respiratory system and can potentially cause long term health problems.

Vice Mayor Del Pepper, co-chair of the Mirant Community Monitoring Group, said she was dismayed by DEQs lack of focus on residents health and that this plant exacts a terrible toll on the community.

Mirant does not have state of the art controls to monitor PM-2.5, Councilman Paul Smedberg said. He called for baghouses to be installed, which work like vacuum cleaners to filter the particulate matter. Smedberg also voiced frustration with DEQ, saying its focused on Mirants goals rather than city residents. Mirants past violations also make it hard for the city to trust the corporation, Smedberg said.

Mike Stump, who worked at the power plant for more than 10 years, cited Mirants voluntary closing in the past, when the plants short stacks caused ground level emissions to rise. The two-stack merge would consolidate emissions and disperse them higher in the air, leading to safer emissions, Mirant officials said.

PM-2.5 emissions are regulated by Virginia Law, and opponents of the permit say that risks for the city outweigh regional health and economic impact.

A town hall meeting with Congressman Jim Moran and Vice Mayor Pepper is scheduled for Feb. 5 at Lyles Crouch Elementary school.

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