A disputed proposal to build a trash-burning power plant in South Baltimore gets another airing Thursday, as the Maryland Public Service Commission weighs whether to give the New York-based developer more time to build the $1 billion facility.

Energy Answers Baltimore won commission approval in 2010 for its planned 160-megawatt project at a former FMC chemical plant in Fairfield. But the company could not meet the regulatory panel's deadline to start construction more than six months ago and asked for an extension until next summer.

The project has been backed by community and labor union leaders as well as by city and state officials, who say it would generate relatively clean renewable energy and offer jobs in a depressed part of the city. But the plan is opposed by environmental activists, who contend that the plant would undermine recycling and worsen pollution in an area that already has some of the state's worst air quality.

The PSC is holding a public hearing on the company's request for an extension at 7 p.m. at the Curtis Bay Recreation Center, 1620 Filbert St.

Company officials said this year that they hadn't lined up enough purchasers of power and suppliers of fuel to obtain financing for the project. They said they needed more time to finish a study showing that the plant would meet federal air pollution limits that have been tightened since the plant was first green-lighted.

Todd Chason, a lawyer for the company, said air-quality modeling completed since then shows that the plant can meet the new limits with already-planned pollution control equipment and other measures. He said company officials have told him they are prepared to begin construction in the next 11 months if the commission grants an extension until Aug. 6.

Environmental activists say the plant's emissions, even if reduced by controls, would pose a health hazard for the Curtis Bay area, which has the highest levels of toxic pollution in the state. Under state-approved limits, the plant could still emit potentially health-impairing pollutants, including more than 150 tons a year of fine soot, more than 100 tons of sulfuric acid mist and hundreds of pounds of lead and mercury.

"Because the EA plant will be constructed in an urban area, just one mile from two schools, it is especially important that the PSC demand the most rigorous air pollution controls possible for the facility before they approve the revised permit for the plant," said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, lawyer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in an email.

The company has said emissions would meet or exceed state requirements, but the plant would still have to purchase "offsets" for some, essentially paying for pollution reductions already made by other businesses that have scaled back or closed.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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