Residents of rural southern Prince George’s County filed a federal civil rights complaint Wednesday, saying the state’s approval of a natural-gas-fueled power plant would disproportionately affect their majority-black community.
Local organizations partnered with Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group, to ask the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Transportation Department to investigate whether state regulators discriminated against the community when they issued a permit last fall for construction of the Panda Mattawoman power plant.
The number of power plants and other industrial enterprises in the southern Prince George’s community of Brandywine has grown in recent decades.
Residents — 72 percent of whom are African American — say the projects are generating excessive pollution in an environmentally sensitive area. There are two plants in the area, and two more, including Panda Mattawoman, are proposed within 15 miles.
“We deserve a healthy quality of life, and we don’t deserve to be disproportionately and adversely impacted in our daily lives as it pertains to air quality, traffic and noise,” said Kamita Gray, president of Brandywine BTB, which is behind the complaint. “We are asking them to listen to the community about the burdens they are asking us to take on.”
Federal officials said they are reviewing the complaint.
Bill Pentak, vice president of investor relations and public affairs for Panda Power Funds, the company building the plant, said, “The Maryland Public Service Commission undertook a lengthy and comprehensive analysis of a wide range of issues in granting the Mattawoman Project’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, including the issues raised in the complaint. The complaint is without merit, and we are confident there have been no violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”
Gray is one of dozens of local activists who tried to intervene when the Public Service Commission took up the power plant case last year. Neighbors complained that the agency failed to assess the negative effects the project would have on the environment.
In a separate action, local activists filed an appeal in December asking a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge to review the agency’s decision. “We are asking the court to vacate approval and send it back to the agency for a redo,” said attorney G. Macy Nelson, who argued the case in court last month.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and other government officials hailed the Panda Mattawoman project’s potential economic impact, saying it would generate millions of dollars in needed tax revenue for the county.
Earthjustice attorney Neil Gormley said that state agencies ignored environmental justice and that the state needs an inclusive process that takes community concerns seriously. “It’s part of a pattern of black communities bearing disproportionately the negative impacts that are understood to go along with the siting of a large fossil-fuel plant,” he said.