Saturday, September 21, 2013

George Gurley - Washington, DC River Terrace Environmental Legend

George Gurley, an ex-military River Terrace resident and environmental champion for the community died in 2009.  Gurley had a notable career in the United States Air Force.  As a fixture in River Terrace, Gurley organized a local groups called Urban Protectors to fight against the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) Plant to prevent them from expanding two oil-fired generators at the Benning Road plant.  He also fought against expansion of a waste-transfer station.

George Gurley, along with energy expert A. Bernard Jones briefed the  community on
 air quality issues related to the  PEPCO plant across the street from the community.

River Terrace is across the street from the 77-acre Pepco plant that has been sitting on the north side of Benning Road NE for over a century.   The peaking plant only operated a few weeks every year, but in 2007, Pepco Holdings announced that it would shut down the turbines and smokestacks entirely.  Gurley had fought for closure of the generators since the 1970s. Gurley organized his own health assessment that found elevated levels of asthma, bronchitis, and cancer in the surrounding neighborhoods.

That prompted the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to do its own health assessment of the River Terrace neighborhood. The study found enough air pollution to aggravate existing health conditions, but concluded that it didn’t have enough data to blame the plant for the health conditions Gurley had found in the community. As federal bureaucracies are wont to do, it recommended further study.  That never happened. And the District’s own arrangements with Pepco don’t require more investigation. After Gurley's death, there hasn’t been much discussion of the plant since then.
AAEA worked with George Gurley in 1990 to organize and host the first Earth Day event in Washington, DC to coincide with the National Earth Day event on the National Mall. Reverend Jesse Jackson and Mayor Marion Barry addressed the gathering, which was held at the River Terrace Elementary School. (Washington City Paper, Oct 12, 2011, East of the River, September 2009, )

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