GreenLaw outlines concerns with NPDES permit renewal with GA EPD
For Immediate Release
April 10, 2015
Rayonier’s Pollution Discharge Permit
Raises Red Flags for Compliance with Georgia Water Quality Standards
Hutton Brown, Senior Attorney, GreenLaw, (404) 659-3122
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Executive Director, GreenLaw, (404) 964-7025
Jen Hilburn, Riverkeeper, Altamaha Riverkeeper, (912) 441-3908
Don Stack, Stack & Associates, (404) 525-9205
Nate Hunt, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center, (434) 872-3188
Atlanta, GA— In comments filed today on the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit granted to Rayonier Performance Fibers LLC (Rayonier), the Altamaha Riverkeeper charges that the draft permit conditions fail to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
The Jesup-based pulp mill continues to discharge 50 to 60 million gallons of effluent into the Altamaha River every day. Comprised of complex organic compounds, the effluent causes a dark plume to extend for miles down the river and is even visible from space. Additionally, the discharge has such a distinct, offensive smell that local fishermen refuse to fish downstream of Rayonier’s discharge pipes.
The Riverkeeper’s comments outline concerns that the draft permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) fails to meet Clean Water Act requirements regarding water quality standards on odor, color and turbidity. In fact, Judge Godbey Wood of the Federal District Court of the Southern District of Georgia recently held that it would be appropriate for the Riverkeeper to ask EPD to modify Rayonier’s NPDES permit to incorporate these water quality standards.
“The current draft permit does nothing to alter the state of noncompliance identified by Judge Godbey Wood,” says GreenLaw Senior Attorney, Hutton Brown. “EPD is required to issue a permit that meets Georgia water quality standards.”
The use of annual averages for color essentially renders any color limits ineffective, according to the comments.
“If there is going to be a realistic possibility of enforcing any color discharge limit, it should be a daily value,” says Co-counsel Don Stack. “Moreover, EPD should be performing a water quality analysis of Rayonier’s discharge to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act.”
Other concerns raised in the comments include inadequate pollution limits and testing. Particularly troubling is whether the unlined waste treatment ponds are contaminating the groundwater.
“Given that the draft permit fails to address the water quality issues raised in our comments, we urge EPD to improve the proposed permit and enact stronger protections for this great river,” says Nate Hunt, Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The environmental protection measures we are requesting are already widely used by the pulp industry in countries with far more lenient regulations than Georgia’s standards.”
“It’s only fair that Rayonier improve its environmental protections of the Altamaha given its continuous fouling of a treasured Georgia resource for over 60 years,” says Altamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn.
The Altamaha River is the third largest contributor of freshwater to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast and is home to many rare or endangered plants and animals, including the Wood Stork, Piping Plover, and Short Nosed Sturgeon.
In addition to ecological concerns, the welfare of the Altamaha River basin impacts commercial and recreational interests of surrounding communities. The Altamaha is arguably the largest intact estuary system on the Atlantic coast, and the health of the river and the species that depend on it is directly impacted by upstream pollution.
Altamaha Riverkeeper is a 501(c)(3) non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the habitat, water quality, and flow of the Altamaha River, Georgia's largest river, from its headwaters in North Georgia to its terminus at the Atlantic Ocean near Darien. ARK represents more than 1,000 members who live, work, and recreate in the Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Ohoopee River Basins and their feeder streams that make up the 1,400 square mile Altamaha River Watershed.
GreenLaw is dedicated to preventing air and water pollution that endangers human health and degrades Georgia’s natural resources. Since 1992, GreenLaw has achieved these goals by providing free, high-quality legal and technical assistance to environmental organizations and community groups throughout Georgia. For more information, visit www.greenlaw.org and follow @greenlaw_GA on Twitter.
Stack & Associates, P.C., www.stackenvirolaw.com, founded in 1993 through the vision of Donald D.J. Stack, Esq. is a premier environmental law office serving citizens, municipalities and corporations throughout the entire Southeast region.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org