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Merck & Co., Inc.

Letter from William B. Grant, Ph. D to EPA Administrator Carol Browner

Virginia Chapter Sierra Club

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." John Muir

March 9, 1997

Ms. Carol Browner
Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, S. W.
Washington, DC 20460

Mr. Richard D. Wilson
Deputy Assistant Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, S. W.
Washington, DC 20460

Re: Merck XL Project Permit

Dear Ms. Browner and Mr. Wilson:

The Sierra Club has not been a party to the Merck XL Project discussions, but considers itself a representative of stakeholders since we have over 11,600 members in Virginia, many of whom enjoy hiking in the Shenandoah National Park.

There are many elements of the Merck XL Project that we support, such as the replacement of two coal-fired spreader stoker boilers with two new natural gas-fired boilers, a project that will cost $10 million (Daily News-Record, February 28, 1997). This conversion will reduce SO2 and NOx emissions by 900 tons/year and HCI and HF by 47 tons/year. The emissions caps concept also seems good, since it provides flexibility while limiting emissions.

However, there are a number of problems that we have with the proposed permit.

First, we find no discussion in the documents relating to the case that the forests of Virginia are already suffering as a result both ozone and acid ion deposition. In 1986, 29.7% of the 2,217,285 acres of oak forest in the northern mountains of Virginia were in decline [Oak et al., 1991]. This rate of decline is much higher than for other states with much lower pollution loads, such as Louisiana, where the decline rate was only 2.32% [Bechtoid et al., 1992]. A regression analysis shows a coefficient of determination (r2) of 0.89 for ozone dose (p=0.0001) and 0.92 (p=0.0009) for ozone plus wet acid ion (NO3 and SO4) deposition. Oak mortality rate in Virginia has risen from 0.53% ca 1960 to 0.83% in 1988, while hickory mortality rates have risen from 0.43% ca 1960 to 1.07% in 1988. While it is beyond the scope of this letter to demonstrate that the increases are due primarily to ozone, suffice it to say that we are preparing a manuscript on our findings for submission to a journal for peer review, and could make our manuscript available to the EPA should forest health in Virginia become an issue in the permit process.

Second, we see no discussion in the Project documentation as to why a site-wide criteria cap at a level of 20% less than recent actual emissions when the emissions reductions from the replacement of coal-fired boilers by gas-fired boilers total 60%.

Third, we are not satisfied with the 75% operational requirement of the monitoring system (4.10.2) when 90% is usually required for other PSD permits.

Fourth, we are not satisfied with basing the particular discussions on the PM-10 standard at a time when the best scientific evidence shows that PM-2.5 or lower is a much better consideration in terms of health and visibility. It is the smaller particles which get into lungs and impair visibility. The larger particles also don't have a long residence time in the atmosphere.

Fifth, we are not satisfied with the makeup of the stakeholder group. While regional organizations are included as one of three categories of community stakeholders, it is unlikely that a member of an organization such as the Southern Environmental Law Center or the Sierra Club will be appointed since the appointment has to be agreed to by full consent of the project signatories.

Sixth, we are not satisfied that Best Available Control Technology (BACT) on newer equipment is not required. Air pollution control technology continues to continue, while plant equipment generally has 30-50-year lifetimes.

Seventh, we are not happy that there is no discussion of the proposed EPA regulations for ozone and particulates. If the regulations are adopted, Virginia may well have to find additional ways to reduce emissions to comply with the regulations. Exempting the Merck Project XL from any requirements to participate in the reductions of emissions places a greater burden on other companies and transportation systems.

Eighth, we are not satisfied that the permit has been negotiated to last indefinitely, rather than with some limited lifetime, after which it is renegotiated within preestablished guidelines.

Ninth, we are not satisfied with the inclusion in the permit application that Merck be given a veto over any suggested changes.

Tenth, we are not satisfied that there is no discussion of Virginia's audit privilege law and whether data collected by Merck could be withheld from the public on the basis of audit privilege. Given these objections to the Permit application, we urge the EPA to delay signing the application until a more favorable agreement can be negotiated for the stakeholders in Virginia, which must include those who value and enjoy the natural beauty and resources of Virginia.

Respectfully submitted,

William B. Grant, Ph.D.
Air Quality Chair
Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club
803 Marlbank Drive
Yorktown, VA 23692-4353


W. A. Bechtold, W. H. Hoffard, and R. L. Anderson, Forest Health Monitoring in the South, 1991, (USDA Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-81, 1992).

Oak, S. W., C. M. Huber, and R. M. Sheffield, Incidence and Impact of Oak Decline in Western Virginia, 1986, USDA Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Resource Bulletin SE-123, 1991.


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