D.C. Mayor Expresses Concern Over GenOn Plant Emissions
Sierra Club study finds high levels of sulfur dioxide in Alexandria, Ward 8 of the District and other areas
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray expressed concern Thursday about the high levels of sulfur dioxide emitted from the GenOn Potomac River Coal Plant in Alexandria and the potential harmful effects on District residents.
A Sierra Club study completed earlier this year shows dangerous levels of emissions are entering the atmosphere over Alexandria, Ward 8 of the District and parts of Virginia’s Arlington County and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory problems. High concentrations can result in breathing problems with asthmatic children and adults engaged in outdoor activity.
“I take the health and wellbeing of our of District residents very seriously, and I’m deeply concerned about this report,” Gray said in a statement. “It is my sincere hope that the parties responsible will step up and do what’s right for the environment and for the health of our citizens.”
Rich Baier, director of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said Friday the Sierra Club analysis prompted his department to contact the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and ask that it take “a deeper look” into the report’s findings.
“We are glad that another jurisdiction is coming to the table and saying ‘Hey, let’s take a look at this,’” Baier said, adding that Alexandria and D.C. are only separated by about a mile on the Potomac River.
As part of a national campaign aimed at closing coal-power plants, the Sierra Club conducted a modeling study of the sulfur dioxide concentrations from the GenOn plant. The sulfur dioxide levels in the study far exceed federal health standards. The Sierra Club opened an office in Del Ray earlier this year to better focus on the GenOn issue.
According to the study, sulfur dioxide levels in Alexandria are almost twice as high as they are in Ward 8 of the District.
Phillip Ellis, a field organizer with the Sierra Club in Alexandria, said the results of the study were “unbelievable.” The Sierra Club hired an outside source to conduct the modeling and asked that the study be conducted with “the most conservative variables possible,” according to Ellis.
“The Sierra Club applauds the statement made by Mayor Vincent C. Gray, and deeply shares his concern not only for the health and well-being of District residents, but also for the families within the city of Alexandria,” Ellis wrote in an email. “The scientific study that prompted Mayor Gray to express concern clearly shows an alarmingly higher level of [sulfur dioxide] pollution in Alexandria. The significant danger posed by the GenOn Potomac River Coal Plant is nothing new to city residents, but this latest evidence shows that the threat is more severe than we previously thought."
Houston-based GenOn Energy, one of the country’s largest producers of wholesale electricity, owns the 60-year-old plant. It provides power to the District and other places, according to a release from Gray’s office.
As the result of a 2008 agreement between Alexandria and Mirant (now GenOn), the company promised to spend $34 million on pollution controls.
In a press release from Gray’s office, District Department of the Environment Director A.G. Tulou said the city is considering filing a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the pollution.
The District can file a petition under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act because it is receiving pollution from a source outside its borders.
“This is a unique situation because under this specific federal law it is D.C., not the City of Alexandria, that has the right to petition the EPA to stop GenOn from causing unsafe levels of air pollution,” Ellis wrote in an email. “Simply put—D.C. has the power to force this corporation to clean up its act or shut down. … If you are one of the many citizens who have been struggling for nearly a decade to protect the health of Alexandrians from this plant, then now is the time to contact Mayor Gray to voice your support in filing this petition as quickly as possible.”