Loudoun’s local and federal lawmakers are asking government agencies to take a closer look at plans for a 460,000-square-foot insulation manufacturing plant on 130 acres in Jefferson County, WV, less than nine miles from the Loudoun border.
Plans for the plant have worried some people in Loudoun, including business owners in the county’s rural western reaches. Owners of agricultural and agritourism businesses have worried that pollution from the plant will ruin their greatest asset: a clean and unspoiled countryside.
Loudoun supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) have asked county staff members for a report on the project.
“I’m not sure at this point exactly what we can do, or what can be done, but I believe it is responsible to understand the impacts of this project on our county, and make a determination if future action is available or necessary,” Higgins said.
Under approvals from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the plant is permitted to emit more than 138,000 tons per year into the air of pollutants like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide.
“Rockwool is a company out of Denmark,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “Denmark won’t allow this company to build in Denmark because what they spew out is too dangerous, so they come to America and they build in Mississippi and West Virginia? Are you kidding me?”
Higgins and Buffington have requested a summary of the project details, status, regulatory approvals, permitting and other relevant publicly available information. They have also asked for an outline of the Board of Supervisors’ options, and a cost estimate for a more in-depth analysis of the plant’s human, agricultural and environmental impacts on Loudoun County.
Those concerns were also voiced by people in the boardroom—some Louduoners, and others who live in West Virginia and work in Loudoun. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alexandra Hazel, who lives with her husband in Jefferson County and is expecting a child, said the plant will be “the second largest polluter in West Virginia, which is saying something considering the sort of competition in West Virginia.”
“This pollution doesn’t know red or blue, it doesn’t know a political affiliation, it knows no state boundaries,” Hazel said—a sentiment reflected by many people at the meeting, including Randall.
“One of the elected officials in Ranson basically said that I should mind my own business, and my response to him was, the moment air has borders, I’ll mind my own business,” Randall said.
But some supervisors weren’t sure what they will be able to do about it from across the state line.
“WE don’t have jurisdiction in this, so our options may be limited,” said Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “We’ll find that out. What I do know is that I’ve read statements of the Ranson mayor, I’ve read statements of the Jefferson County Development Authority, and there’s an uphill battle here.”
Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) last week penned a letter to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Cosmo Servidio requesting “further examination of any and all applications in this matter to determine any areas of noncompliance and how we can ensure protection of our existing economy and communities.”
“The potential for air and water pollution generated from such an operation has understandably alarmed our local citizens and farmers,” Comstock wrote. “The impact to Loudoun County could cause irreparable harm to the local economy especially the agritourism industry.” She also wrote of health effects for the people in the path of the plant’s emissions: “These pollutants could include cancer-causing chemicals and damage intellectual development in children along with causing serious heart and lung damage.”
Comstock has faced criticism from conservation and environmental interests about her votes in Congress, including her support for cutting the EPA’s budget.
Rockwool Vice President Michael Zarin has said the plant’s impacts on Loudoun “will in all practical terms be non-existent.” The Jefferson County Development Authority has defended the company’s plans, comparing it to a larger plant in Mississippi which the authority wrote “is extremely clean, employees are happy and proud to work there, and the community is proud to have them there.”