Environmentalists paddled kayaks along Dundee Creek on Saturday to call attention to the recently announced sale of three local coal-fired power plants they say should be shut down for polluting the air.
Jan Hoffmaster of Millersville, the outings chairman for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, told the organization's volunteers that they were on a three-part mission: "Enjoy, explore and protect."
Exelon Corp. revealed plans last week to sell the plants in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties for $400 million to Raven Power Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of the New York-based private equity firm Riverstone Holdings LLC.
The Sierra Club's focus is on two of the three plants — H.A. Wagner in Anne Arundel County and C.P Crane in Baltimore County, each built about a half-century ago. Those plants are among the state's oldest and lack the pollution controls in place at the Brandon Shores plant in Anne Arundel, according to Chris Hill, a conservation representative for the Sierra Club.
"Crane and Wagner are incredibly, incredibly dirty and inefficient," Hill said. "We are calling on the company to retire these two plants and move into energy that is sustainable for our communities, that is healthy for our communities."
Coal-generated energy should be phased out in favor of the development of wind and solar power and investments in energy efficiency, Hill said.
The protesters launched a letter-writing campaign to state leaders about a month ago, sending about 1,200 to Gov. Martin O'Malley to ask that the public be allowed to weigh in on the transfer of the plant permits. So far the group has not received a response from O'Malley or the state Department of the Environment, Hill said.
O'Malley has pledged his support for the development of alternative energy sources, including a push for wind turbines to be constructed off Maryland's coast.
Paul Adams, a spokesman for Exelon, said the company has taken significant steps to protect the environment. Exelon will continue to run the three coal plants until the sale, which must be approved by federal energy regulators, is finalized later this year. Exelon was required to sell the plants to win state approval for its takeover of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group.
"Over the past five years, Constellation spent more than a billion dollars on pollution control projects at its Baltimore-area coal plants, resulting in significant air quality benefits and making them among the cleanest coal plants in the nation," Adams said in a statement.
Adams also said all three plants comply with Maryland's Healthy Air Act, which passed in 2006. The law required the state's power plants to reduce their pollution by at least 70 percent from levels a decade ago.
A Riverstone representative declined to comment Saturday.
The Sierra Club's Hill disputes the plants' environmental track record. Air pollution has been linked to respiratory illness, heart disease and strokes, among other health issues, according to the Sierra Club.
"There are extreme levels of soot and ozone emitted into our air that we're actually breathing right now," Hill said.
Kathleen "Laurel" Imlay of Hyattsville brought her 9-year-old son, Rowan Imlay-Morris, along for the four-hour kayaking trip. They were among about 25 people who joined the outing, which was part of the environmental group's Beyond Coal campaign.
"It takes each person doing something to make change," Imlay said. "Once you have kids, you realize you're leaving this planet for your children and you have to do whatever you can to take care of it."
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this report.