Thursday, March 20, 2008

Residents welcome Chalk Point cleanup

Plant makes clean air a priority

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For residents and environmentalists in the Aquasco area, a judicial agreement to clean up the Chalk Point Generating Station is a welcome ruling.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and the attorney general’s office announced March 11 the filing of a consent decree with Mirant Mid-Atlantic, the company that owns the station, to address several air quality violations at its Chalk Point plant in Aquasco.

The consent decree, filed in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, is a binding, voluntary judicial agreement.

‘‘This is an advantage to anyone who lives near the plant,” said Virginia Stallings, president of the Greater Baden-Aquasco Civic Association. ‘‘Environmental cleanup at the plant will be good for Aquasco residents.”

Sue Jenkins, another Aquasco resident said a cleanup would be beneficial to the air quality.

‘‘I know people who live even closer that get residue on their cars from the ash that comes from the plant,” Jenkins said.

The settlement resolves repeated violations of the visible emission limitations from the coal-fired units at each plant and violations of reporting, monitoring and operating permit renewal requirements.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mirant must immediately install four particulate matter continuous emission-monitoring systems, which regulate the amount of pollution coming from the stacks at the plant. Mirant must also pay a civil penalty of $175,000 and donate $75,000 to Prince George’s County to retrofit county diesel school buses with oxidation catalysts to reduce particulate matter emissions from the bus fleet.

‘‘This does seem like a step in the right direction,” Kelly Canavan, president of the Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Communities Council said. ‘‘But we want to be careful that it is a big enough step and that they have the means to follow through.”

Canavan said that if Mirant does not work hard to correct the problem it likely will not get done.

‘‘This requires careful monitoring internally and externally,” she said.

The consent decree also requires Mirant to make additional improvements to the plants to reduce opacity levels and particulate emissions. It also must implement more stringent opacity and particulate matter monitoring requirements. Improvements include upgrades to the particulate matter pollution control equipment at the Dickerson Plant, installation of truck washing facilities at the Morgantown and Chalk Point plants and increased frequency of particulate matter stack testing at all three plants.

Misty Allen, Mid Atlantic External Affairs Officer for Mirant Corporation, said Mirant is committed to reducing pollution around its plants.

According to Allen, the Chalk Point plant is the state’s largest generating station, servicing 2.4 million homes. She also said the company is taking steps toward curbing air pollution past what was agreed upon in the agreement.

‘‘We are working to comply with the Maryland Healthy Air Act,” Allen said.

The Maryland Healthy Air Act, which was signed into law in 2006, requires reductions in nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions from large coal burning power plants.

In 2006, Mirant installed a selective autocatalytic reduction system. In May 2008, it will complete construction on a selective catalytic reduction system.

Together, the two systems will remove as much as 90 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions from the stacks. Nitrogen oxide is a precursor to smog.

Allen said the company also is working on a flue-gas desulfurization system that will remove as much as 95 percent of the sulfur oxide emissions. The system uses scrubbers to clean emissions above the stacks. Permits have been completed at the state level and construction should be finished by 2010.

‘‘I can see the clouds over the stack of the generating station from a hill near my house,” Jenkins said. ‘‘I know this will be very good for the area.”