Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jack Markell Asks Three Questions About DNREC and NRG

In contrast to those who imagine that their political leaders should have all the answers, I'm happy when one asks the right questions. Jack Markell asked three such questions in his blog today, in relation to the recent agreement between the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Envrionmental Controls (DNREC) and NRG.
Two weeks ago, Patricia Gearity and John Austin of Citizens for Clean Power wrote an oped criticizing the agreement. They estimated the health costs of the deal to be $174.4 million, and pointed out that the delay in compliance was due not to technical considerations, but to the question of how long NRG would continue to operate two antiquated units:
However, it appears the rest of the settlement was driven not by NRG's technical inability to meet Regulation 1146 requirements, but by corporate financial considerations. NRG made no secret of its refusal to comply with Regulation 1146 for Units 1 and 2 (now 50 years old with no pollution controls and no capital expenses). Compliance would require retrofitting the old units at great expense, or shutting them down. Since Units 1 and 2 provide NRG with massive profits, it makes business sense to keep them operating as long as possible.
Markell mentioned their oped in his blog post, and asked three pertinent questions:
First, let’s assume for a moment that NRG does, in fact, meet the timeline prescribed in the new settlement. What is the dollar value of the fines they avoided by not having to meet the original regulations?
Second, if NRG does not fully meet the timeline agreed upon in the settlement, what level of fines will be assessed?
Third, again assuming NRG does not meet the new timeline, will fees be retroactive to the original regulations? Similarly, will any additional punitive actions be taken?
I have to admit that the first question had not crossed my mind. Considering that extending the deadline for complying with Regulation 1146 will allow NRG to garner further profits from a (demonstrably dirty) cash cow, it seems that including a negotiated fine as part of the agreement would be appropriate in terms of providing our state government some funds to defray the public health costs created by the continued operation of the number one source of air pollution in Delaware.
Markell goes on to point out that the terms of the agreement with NRG set the stage for similar talks with Conectiv Energy, which has also challenged Regulation 1146 in court.
The answers to these questions are especially important because this issue doesn’t end with NRG. Conectiv is also aggressively pursuing a similar appeal. According to papers filed with DNREC, Conectiv acknowledges it has the ability to meet the emission standards but chooses to appeal the regulations instead.
I've been around long enough to know that no one political leader will have all the right answers. But I am encouraged when I hear a guy like Jack Markell ask the right questions. As I have often said, how one thinks is at least as important as what one thinks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read some minutes from DTI's internal working group(s) and I also notice that Markell seems to ask the right questions when looking at things he doesn't know about. What I find refreshing about his approach is that Jack doesn't assume that he knows everything. Not sure we can handle that in a politician :)

6:46 AM, September 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit, having an elected official ask questions is interesting -- but it is much more interesting to contrast what they SAY with what they DO.

Let's consider this post by Jack Markell, which includes thoughtful asides like this:

"Watching Michael take in deep breaths as he led us on that portion of our ride reminded me how important it is that we search for clean, safe energy solutions such as wind power. The true cost of damaging the environment isn’t captured in a spreadsheet. It’s about our kids, it’s about our quality of life, and it’s about a public health crisis – not just 50 or 20 years down the road, but potentially much sooner."

Now let's contrast this with something Jack Markell has actually done, like taking campaign contributions.

Looking at Mr. Markell's campaign finance report for 2006 shows some interesting contributions from some people and organizations not at all interested in helping Michael (whoever he is) breath more easily.

Most notable among these contributions is one from Sunoco, Inc. for the maximum amount allowed by law to be given to a candidate by any one entity. And how does Sunoco make the money it uses to contribute to people like Jack Markell? Mostly by operating smelly, air polluting refineries, like those in Philadelphia and Marcus Hook in Pennsylvania, and the Eagle Point refinery in Westville New Jersey.

Seems like someone who was so interested in the quality of the air we breath would know what a company like Sunoco does. It also seems like someone who was really interested in changing things would have the good sense to refuse a contribution from a company so at odds with what he says is important.

7:22 PM, September 09, 2007  

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