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Merck & Co., Inc.

Letter from Roger Diedrich to Larry Simmons

3322 Prince William Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031

March 13, 1997

Mr. Larry Simmons
DEQ Valley Regional Office
P.O. Box 1109
Harrisonburg, VA 22301-1129

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 area 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 areas 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 any where 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 particular 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 looked 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 it is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth.


Roger Diedrich

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

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