Earthjustice, minority community file complaint about Panda plant

Earthjustice has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Maryland officials that allegedly failed to properly assess the air quality impact of the Panda Power Funds’ Mattawoman natural gas power plant on the majority black community of Brandywine, Maryland.

The complaint alleges that Maryland regulars provided inadequate public notice and failed to perform proper “environmental justice” vetting for the power plant application before approving it in 2015.

Panda has targeted placing the plant into service in the fall of 2018.

Brandywine is in an unincorporated portion of Prince George County that is 72% African-American. The 990-MW power plant, proposed by Mattawoman Energy, LLC, would be the fifth fossil-fueled power plant to operate within 13 miles of the community.

The state of Maryland is required under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act to consider whether there would be an unjustified unequal impact on the basis of race in approving a project that would cause pollution and involves the use of federal funds, Earthjustice said in a May 11 news release.

The state’s Public Service Commission Department of the Environment, and Department of Natural Resources, which together approved the plant, failed to assess whether the project would cause disparate impact and whether there are ways to avoid such impacts, Earthjustice asserts on behalf of its clients.

The complaint was filed with the offices of civil rights at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation because those federal agencies fund the relevant Maryland agencies and they are required by law to investigate and address the civil rights violation.

The complainants, the Brandywine TB Coalition and Patuxent Riverkeeper, are concerned about increasing air pollution, noise pollution, traffic congestion, and depressed property values, Earthjustice said.

“The situation in Brandywine is an egregious example of discrimination,” said Earthjustice attorney Neil Gormley, who filed the complaint.

In fact, the communities in closest proximity to all Maryland’s 13 power plants are disproportionately black. Maryland is 30% black, but the percentage of the population within 10 miles of a large fossil-fuel-fired power plant averages 36% African American. Prince George’s County is 65% black and has four power plants that are operating or permitted.

Brandywine is already home to the 289-MW gas-fired Panda Brandywine plant; the multi-unit coal, oil and gas-fueled Chalk Point plant is 12 miles away.

In addition to the Mattawoman plant that is the subject of the complaint, two more fossil fuel‐fired power plants are under construction near Brandywine: the 755 MW gas‐fired PSEG Keys Energy Center less than one mile east, and the 725 MW gas‐fired CPV St. Charles Energy Center approximately 5 miles south, Earthjustice said in the complaint.

“When all of the approved fossil fuel fired power plants are constructed, there will be a total of three large gas‐fired power plants in the immediate vicinity of Brandywine, all within three miles of one another,” Earthjustice said. “There will be a total of five large fossil fuel‐fired power plants within 13 miles of Brandywine.”

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.