County wants input on ash

Official left out of MDE plan, she says

September 30, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Contradicting statements made by a Maryland Department of the Environment official last week, Anne Arundel County's health officer forcefully said the agency has not consulted with her department on plans to more strictly enforce coal-ash disposal.

In the latest sign of frustration among county officials that the state has shut them out of its efforts to clamp down on a Gambrills dumping site, Frances B. Phillips said Friday she learned that the MDE had formed an internal panel to weigh new rules on coal ash from Constellation Energy Group.

An official from Constellation, which has disposed of billions of tons of fly ash at the former BBSS Inc. mining site, informed her in early September -- weeks after the internal group of regulators had been formed -- that representatives from the state's power companies were to meet last week with the MDE on coal-ash regulations, she said.

Phillips requested to sit in on the meeting, but she said she was denied.

"No, the county wasn't invited," Phillips said. She said that beyond comments made by state officials at community forums and media reports, "that's what I know about the regulations."

Still, she called the MDE's efforts to draft new regulations on fly ash "a very positive development," noting that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has yet to amend standards after seven years of close study.

MDE Assistant Secretary Stephen L. Pattison, a former environmental compliance manager for Constellation, said on Friday that state staff raised the issue of coal-ash regulations in a meeting with county officials on Aug. 23, but he didn't mention the forming of an internal panel because its work was "too conceptual."

For an article in The Sun on Friday, he dismissed County Executive John R. Leopold's assertion that the county was not involved in discussing new regulations. Pattison said he had consulted with Phillips.

Pattison said that no rules have yet been produced. Regulations could be proposed by year's end, he said Friday, to allow for an extensive review-and-comment period. He said the MDE "is sensitive to the input of Fran [Phillips] directly and other health officers."

The panel of state regulators was assembled after a county investigation uncovered cancer-causing metals in 23 private drinking wells near the BBSS site. Separately in August, the MDE issued a consent decree to order BBSS and Constellation to clean up groundwater near the 80-acre site. All three parties are in negotiations, and state officials said they will go to court if a deal is not struck by tomorrow.

County officials have criticized the MDE for not allowing them to participate in the secret negotiations and not being a part of the panel.

Phillips said the county would play a valuable role in both matters because her department observed the negative impacts of that operation.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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