The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

D.C. area power plants:
Deadly agreement

Oct 11, 2004

At the end of September, Mirant Corporation, the owner and operator of 27 power plants, agreed to put in pollution controls on four power plants around the Washington D.C. area, three in Maryland and one in Virginia. Virginia officials said they are happy about the corporation's agreement, but the results don't look so good to people living in the area. Mirant will only gradually reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from 45,000 tons per year to 16,000 tons per year. And they have another SIX years to do it. The emission control projects don't have to be finished until 2010!

Mirant's Chalk Point plant is 40 years old. Its emissions are estimated to have been responsible every year for 270 unnecessary deaths from heart attacks and lung disease, plus 7500 asthma attacks and 1400 additional emergency room visits. The figures come from a 2002 study by health researchers at Harvard University, which Mirant, of course, disputes.

More than 30 years ago, during a period of increasing concern about the environment, angry protests led to Congress passing the Clean Air Act of 1970. But polluting companies continued to ignore it – until 1977 when congress made it legal to do so. The 1977 addition to the Clean Air Act allowed utility companies and other industrial corporations to put off installing pollution controls until they did "major" renovations. In some cases, corporations took newer facilities out of use and kept the old ones going – simply to avoid putting in pollution controls.

The officials who have now agreed to the new consent decree say not a word about who will pay for the new pollution controls. But consumers can get an idea from what Mirant did in the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001. California's attorney general brought suit to recover money, accusing Mirant of "unjustly profiting from rampant lying and fraud ... draining billions of dollars from California's economy and rate-payers."

How did Mirant respond? It found the perfect way to avoid paying a penny back to California or Maryland or Virginia electricity customers – it took itself into bankruptcy court.

So no one will be too surprised when there is another charge or an increased rate on area electric utility bills in Maryland and Virginia.

Grabbing our wallets while choking us to death – that's Mirant's game.