Owner of Power Plants to Pay Fine, Reduce Soot

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

The owner of three coal-burning power plants in Maryland has agreed to pay a $175,000 fine and reduce the soot coming from their smokestacks after regulators found that the plants had repeatedly violated their emissions limits.

The agreement was laid out Tuesday in a consent decree filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court. It also requires that Mirant Mid-Atlantic, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Mirant, donate $75,000 to reduce pollution coming from Prince George's school buses.

The consent decree "will enable us to move forward with improved operations" at the three plants, a Mirant spokesman said yesterday in a statement.

With the decree, Maryland officials have settled pollution cases against the two companies that own all of the state's six large coal-burning plants. In May, Constellation Energy agreed to pay $100,000 for pollution emitted by two plants in Anne Arundel County and another in Baltimore County.

In this case, officials targeted the three Maryland plants owned by Mirant Mid-Atlantic: the Dickerson plant in Montgomery County, the Morgantown plant in Charles County and the Chalk Point plant in Prince George's.

State officials said that the plants repeatedly put out smoke that was too dark -- essentially, too clogged with soot -- and that they sometimes failed to alert the state of their violations. At the Morgantown plant, according to court papers, tests also showed excessive emissions of sulfur oxides, pollutants that can irritate lungs and contribute to acid rain.

Those upgrades will include new equipment to remove harmful particles before they are emitted and to monitor the darkness of smoke, said Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. His agency regulates air pollution.

The money donated to the Prince George's school system will be used to retrofit school buses so that less soot comes out of their exhaust pipes, state officials said in a release. The idea, state officials said, is that Mirant will make up for its own past emissions by cleaning up someone else's.

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