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Merck & Co., Inc.

Letter from Roger Diedrich to Robin Moran

May 13, 1997

Robin Moran,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region III,
Air, Radiation & Toxics Division
841 Chestnut St. (3A323)
Philadelphia, PA 19107-4431

Re: Merck & Co. Inc. Stonewall Plant, Project XL Proposed Rule

Dear Ms. Moran,

While I am obviously not a neighbor of the Merck Plant, I am concerned about process and precedent regarding industrial regulation. A copy of my earlier remarks to VADEQ are enclosed for your convenience.

The Merck XL agreement appears, on the surface, to provide for lower total emissions from the plant. In spite of this, there mains a question as to whether this is a good agreement for the long-term public benefit. A key element of the agreement is to relax VADEQ control over details of permitted releases. While this may appear to be a safe short-term tradeoff given a certain comfort with the current motives of parties to the agreement, is far less clear that a problem in the future can be dealt with in a beneficial manner. Such a situation could arise, for example, with new ownership with notably different goals and outlook, new processes and a different mix of emissions. Having permanently yielded a measure of control to others, including the permittee, corrective adjustments may not be possible. This weakness could be improved by changing the agreement so that permit revisions or other action could be decided by, say, 4 of the 5 Project signatories. Also, there should be a requirement for a public hearing, probably by VADEQ, midway through each 5-year review.

EPA claims (p.3) that "incentives are provided for Merck to find ongoing emission reductions at the facility and quickly implement those reductions." Ostensibly, the tiered reporting system was to be a major factor. A glance at Table 4.2 show the 3 tiers to be, for all intents, identical! No other incentives are evident.

The following lists some of the stated XL Pilot Project criteria, and my reactions:

  1. Environmental performance superior to what would be achieved through compliance with current and reasonably anticipated future regulations. EPA is not including its own proposal for more stringent particulate standards and possibly ozone. It is unknown if it will be better in the long-term, but by the time we do, it will be very difficult to change the permit.
  2. Cost savings or economic opportunity, and/or decreased paperwork burden. Basically, this is unknown, but under the Clean Air Act, costs are not to be a consideration.
  3. Stakeholder support. EPA claims to have consulted environmental groups, but fails to mention that at least 2 of 3 had concerns that were not satisfied before the final agreement was signed. The number of early participants was limited.
  4. Test of innovative strategies for achieving environmental results. For EPA, yet, it is a fine test, but for Virginia, it is a permanent fixture, good or bad.
  5. 6. & 7. - No comment.

I had not previously been aware that the plant had a sludge incinerator and a solid waste incinerator. Plants such as these can and do burn every imaginable sort of material, with the expected effluents. The monitoring ought to be expanded to record the emission levels of substances such as metals, dioxin, furans and acid gas.

The XL project has suffered some setbacks in Arizona and Minnesota and I am sure you are anxious to demonstrate a success. I feel your pain, but please don't pass it on to Virginia's citizens and environment. This permit agreement needs work before it can truly give proper protection.



Robert Diedrick
3322 Prince Williams Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031 3322

Prince William Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031

March13, 1997

Mr. Larry Simmons
DEQ Valley Regional Office
P.O. Box 1129
Harrisonburg, VA 22801-1129

Dear Mr. Simmons:

As a frequent visitor to the Shenandoah National park and surrounding areas, I have taken an interest in the proposed variance to the Merck air permit. I am encouraged by the idea that Merck would replace coal-fired boilers with gas-fueled equipment having expected emission reductions. The areas is suffering badly from pollution and relief is long overdue.

In spite of the potential for improvement, I am concerned that the arrangement is risky in that the flexibility is one-sided and the public has little leverage to influence any needed corrections. The XL Project has been described as experimental by EPA, yet Virginia is giving out a permanent permit - we are the test bed. More than one of other XL Projects have been rejected. The negotiation of the agreement was accomplished out of the public eye with select participants. It is a complex document and since there is no experience with such a process, it is hard to know where weaknesses lie. The limited group of signatories will control any possible changes, again without public involvement. This raises a question - what sort of publicity did you give to this permit? If it was only in the Elkton area as I suspect, you have excluded all other citizens who have an interest in general protection of the environment and even supporters of the SNP, who could be from anywhere in the U.S. You may also receive a disproportionate number of comments from persons with a vested interest in the economics of the plant.

The permit accepts a reduction in sulfur and nitrogen in exchange for possible increases in VOCs and CO. What is the value of that tradeoff? Is there a way to measure it? There may be a calculated benefit to Merck in that they see and project the likely imposition of carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse gases and they are willing to invest in early reduction of what will eventually be a major cost, and "buy" some other emission rights while they can.

The permit does not seem to account for EPA's proposed new air quality standards, again allowing a long term escape from higher standards. This is especially noticeable for the particulate standard. The permit relieves the applicant from the need to install Best Available Control Technology in any future plant upgrades. As new methods and equipment is developed, we don't want to be locked in by long lifetimes. BACT provides for the possibility of ever constant improvement.

What is the effect of the intersection of this rather open-ended permit and Virginia's new law allowing voluntary environmental assessments? This law allows companies to invoke a privilege for information relating to an assessment that they initiate. It seems to offer an opportunity for mischief that has no countervailing protection.

I am bothered that the permit is permanent and that only the group of signatories can end it, and Merck can veto any such action. There are no penalties for violations except for withdrawal of the permit, and even that process is unclear.

Unfortunately, I am not able to offer an alternative for the deficiencies I have enumerated, and I believe that while the goal of less burdensome and flexible regulation is desirable, this approach does not seem to offer a viable process and protection of the environment. The only possibility is to open it up to a broader public debate and provide the information and resources for all stakeholders to participate.

None of what I have presented is meant to reflect badly on Merck & Co., for I have heard that they are a responsible corporate citizen. The difficulty is with the unknown, and any corporation's need to put profitability first, that is their essence. Having said that, I reluctantly ask that you deny the proposed permit variance, I think is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth.



Roger Diedrich

cc: Mike McCabe, U.S. EPA, Region III

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