In an ironic turn of events, some North County residents and elected officials say they are willing to live with air pollution a little longer if Baltimore Gas and Electric will drop plans to use a hazardous chemical in the Brandon Shores plant's new emission-reduction system.
County Council member Shirley Murphy said yesterday that she wants an extension of a court-ordered deadline that would force BGE to reduce emissions by May 2001.
An extension, she said, would give the utility time to adopt an alternative anti-pollution system that does not involve trucking 7,000 tons of anhydrous ammonia daily into the Brandon Shores plant.
The ammonia plan is the latest source of Solly residents' anger at BGE. Over the years, neighbors have fought with the power company over various pollution issues.
Murphy is organizing a meeting to allow local legislators to urge the Maryland Department of Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency to work out a postponement, she said.
"The residents are just livid over the fact the BGE is not going to use a safe system," Murphy said. "If we can just get an extension for them, it will give them time to reconsider."
State Dels. Joan Cadden and John R. Leopold said they support Murphy's move if BGE switches to an alternative system that uses a safer form of ammonia that would be manufactured at the plant.
A spokesman from the Maryland Department of the Environment said the organization was in talks with the power company but that nothing had been decided.
"Timing is essential in this process," said Rose Kendig, a BGE spokeswoman. "A delay would give us more time to look and see if the new system would work."
Maryland is the only state among 11 on the Ozone Transport Commission - set up in the early 1990s to plan reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants - that has not complied with emission limits.
BGE and Potomac Electric Power Co. sued the Maryland Department of Environment in 1998, saying they could not comply with state regulations, which stemmed from earlier Ozone Transport Commission decisions, calling for them to reduce emissions by May 1999.
Nitrogen oxides contribute to smog and poor air quality, especially in the summer.
A court order in favor of the power plants and further negotiations with the MDE pushed back to May 2001 the deadline for Maryland power companies to meet new emission standards.
It is that deadline, BGE officials say, that forces the company to move ahead with the anhydrous ammonia anti-pollution system rather than develop the alternative system residents prefer.
For residents such as Lauri A. Saybuck, the additional pollutants that would go with extending the deadline are a less pressing issue than a potentially deadly substance less than a mile from her home.
"I'm willing to live a little longer with the pollution, if that's what it takes," said Saybuck, who lives in the Chestnut Hill Cove community. "I'd rather them commit to not using the anhydrous ammonia at all."
Saybuck plans to participate this morning with about 50 mothers and children in a demonstration against BGE's anhydrous ammonia plan.
Although the power company has repeatedly maintained that its proposed system is safe, opposition from residents has swelled in recent weeks.
Community leaders have collected more than 1,000 signatures against the plan, and they say they plan more protests.
"It's not every day that somebody decides to change the zoning and haul poisonous toxins through neighborhoods and by schools," said Marcia Drenzyk, a Solley resident who has organized community opposition to BGE's proposal.
"I think Councilwoman Murphy knows the deal all too well."
Not all residents are willing to move toward the power plant's side in the emissions struggle, even if it could mean an alternative to anhydrous ammonia.
"Why should we give them any relief?" asked Lester A. Ettlinger, an environmental risk consultant who lives in Stoney Beach and has been organizing residents against BGE's anhydrous ammonia plan.
"Reduce emissions and get this new system in there now. I don't think the legislature should be as kind to give BGE more maneuvering room."