POINT PLEASANT — One of the keys to moving forward with a proposed $1.2 billion coal-to-liquids plant in Mason County is the air quality permit.
A hearing concerning the draft permit was requested and held earlier this week at the Mason County Courthouse, with the third floor courtroom full of attendees. Hosted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the meeting was meant to inform the public about the permit, the DEP’s role and allow for public comment.
Leading off the meeting, Joe Kessler, engineer with the DEP’s Air Quality Division, gave a presentation on the draft permit pertaining to the facility proposed by Domestic Synthetic Fuels (DS Fuels). Kessler said he could only address those comments which pertained to air quality and that DS Fuels submitted a minor source air permit application. According to the DEP evaluation sheet on the draft permit, “the estimated maximum emissions of the proposed facility are less than applicability thresholds that would define the facility as ‘major.’”
The DEP’s legal notice which appeared in the Point Pleasant Register stated, in regards to the draft permit, “a preliminary evaluation has determined that all State and Federal air quality requirements will be met by the proposed construction.”
The notice goes on to list “the following potential increases in emissions will be authorized by this permit action: Carbon Monoxide, 71.32 tons per year (TPY), Oxides of Nitrogen, 80.91 TPY, Particulate Matter less than 2.5 microns, 54.66 TPY; Particulate Matter less than 10 microns, 78.12 TPY; Particulate Matter, 83.49 TPY; Sulfur Dioxide, 27.19 TPY; Volatile Organic Compounds, 86.10 TPY; and total Hazardous Air Pollutants, 16.96 TPY.”
Following Kessler’s presentation, the DEP took comments for the record regarding the permit. Approximately seven people spoke on the record against, or with concerns, regarding the permit, with one resident identifying themselves as currently living in Mason County. Some organizations represented during these comments were the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) based in Huntington.
Approximately 14 spoke in favor of the permit. Some of those speaking in favor of the permit included elected officials, Delegates Jim Butler and Scott Cadle, State Senator Eric Tarr, State Senator and President of the Senate Mitch Carmichael. County Commissioners Sam Nibert and Tracy Doolittle submitted a statement on behalf of themselves and Commissioner Rick Handley in support of the permit. Local business people in support of the plant who spoke on the record included, Larry Jones of Point Financial and vice president of the Mason County Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Dunn from Homestead Realty and Main Street Point Pleasant, Dennis Brumfield, accountant, John Sang from John Sang Ford. From the trades unions, former state delegate and current member of the Mason County Development Authority, Scott Brewer spoke in favor of the permit, as did CD Adkins of the West Virginia State Pipefitters Association.
From industry, all of the following spoke in favor of the permit: Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association; Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Natural Gas Association of West Virginia; Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Vivian Stockman with OVEC took issue with the potential increases in emissions proposed by the plant, citing what she felt were the dangers of some of the emissions and health risks. She also stated the permit should be delayed until lawmakers addressed the absence of greenhouse gases taken into consideration regarding air quality.
“Finally, I hope you will investigate Domestic Synthetic Fuels’ Kevin Whited and the money he owes Washington County, Maryland,” Stockton said. “Mabye the DEP doesn’t have to look into this but certainly officials in Mason County should check into the records of this fellow.”
Justin Raines, who identified himself as being with the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club would later bring up the same topic regarding Washington County, Maryland.
James Kotcon , chairperson of the conservation committee with the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, stated Mason County didn’t have an air monitoring station, and was concerned about the cumulative impacts of air quality from not only the proposed plant but other nearby power plants across the river in Gallia County, Ohio. “Climate change is a real issue,” Kotcon stated after concurring greenhouse gases needed to be examined in regards to the permit.
Alex Cole from Mason County, said his family had lived there for six generations.
“…Our young people are leaving,” Cole said. “Do you know why young people are leaving? The disease is in the despair of being tied to a dying industry. Especially if that industry is as inherently toxic and carcinogenic as coal and chemicals…Most young people don’t want to take part in that. They don’t want to live next to that, they don’t want to see that outside their classroom windows everyday. …Who’s going to want to live next to this thing and who’s going to want their kids to go to school just three miles from this thing, breathing all this stuff…”
Jones then spoke on behalf of himself and the chamber of commerce, “…I am neither a chemist, nor an engineer, I do not know what these gentlemen know that are engineers and chemists but I do know that our country need jobs in Mason County. We feel that if the state does their job and monitors this facility, than we can have industry and the ancillary jobs that come with it, without endangering our environment. That would be the goal of everyone. And, I don’t think anybody would want this facility built if they didn’t feel it was safe but must we not depend on the regulators that we have to determine whether it is safe or not? …On a personal note, I live directly east of this facility and I am not afraid of the air that’s going to be coming my way and I know they’re going to be monitoring that and I anticipate it to be safe.”
Bostic stated, the plant would “speed the recovery of the state’s coal industry” and as the operation “ramps up…that benefits not only coal operations and mine workers, but also the state as they collect severance taxes on the coal.” Bostic added much of the coal mined in West Virginia currently leaves the state, but with the proposed plant, some of that natural resource would stay within its borders. He also spoke about all the “downstream jobs” associated with the coal industry.
“…Another key advantage is, the Domestic Synthetic Fuels project will allow coal and natural gas produced in West Virginia to be used right here, as opposed to being exported,” Burd echoed Bostic’s sentiments. “It’s a win for the industry, the industries of coal and natural gas, it’s a win for Domestic Synthetic Fuels and it’s certainly a win for Mason County and West Virginia. We’re proud to announce our support of the project.”
“It (the plant) is a great example of how we can keep our natural resources here in West Virginia,” Blankenship said. “We are sitting on one of the largest natural gas formations in the world…we’re producing a lot, but we’re not using it as much as we really should here in West Virginia. This is the perfect example of one opportunity to do that and by doing that, we’re being respectful of our resources, we’re creating jobs for our community, we’re creating jobs for our state, we’re creating severance tax income, revenue that benefits all of us…so it’s a really great opportunity here in Mason County but also for West Virginia as a whole. …There are a number of regulations incorporated into (the air permit) to make sure this facility does what it says it’s going to do, trust me, it’s heavy regulated. And the good news is, for all of you folks concerned about the environmental issues, this is a minor source of air pollutants, not a major source so it is on the low spectrum and it’s almost 100 percent recycling materials that it uses.”
Some of those opposing the permit did make mention they felt the facility should be considered a major source of air pollutants, as opposed to minor. Also, in regards to the question of DS Fuels President CEO Whited and Washington County, Maryland which reportedly involved a proposed waste-to-energy project, and repayment of what a local media source in the area referred to as a “loan,” due July 31, 2018, DS Fuels released the following statement to Ohio Valley Publishing following the DEP meeting:
“Whited has agreed to pay more than $261,000 to officials in Washington County, Maryland as repayment of a $250,000 gap funding originally intended to help pay for a project to turn waste into fuel sources at the Forty West Landfill.
In 2013, Whited entered into an agreement with Washington County officials to develop a waste to liquids project at the landfill. The project was held up by permitting issues with Maryland state officials.
The Board of County Commissioners voted July 30 to accept a promissory note for $261,465.75 to settle the issue. The payment includes interest on the initial loan. Whited agreed to pay the money within a year.
‘We always intended to make good on our agreements,’ Whited said in the statement. ‘This should put the issue to rest.’”
In regards to the air quality permit, the comment period officially closed at the end of the meeting at the court house. The DEP now considers the comments and either approves or denies the draft permit.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.