At the MDEQ Environmental Permit Board’s August 2014 meeting, we presented GRN’s comments which asked the Board to require fecal coliform bacteria monitoring for any discharges from the reservoir at the Kemper IGCC power plant. This reservoir holds Meridian’s treated municipal waste water at the end of a 41-mile pipeline. Kemper buys this water to make steam for generating electricity. MDEQ permit engineers maintained that no reasonable potential existed for pollution from human waste in emergency discharges from the reservoir into Chickasawhay Creek, 6 miles upstream of Okatibbee Lake, a popular state lake.
The Permit Board over-ruled the engineers, amended their permit, and will make Mississippi Power answer the bacteria question by requiring them to monitor for fecal coliform bacteria in emergency discharges. The reservoir has already discharged twice during normal plant construction, not during emergencies. The Power Company was cited by MDEQ for violations for these discharges. The permit board members heard all of this before making what we consider to be a reasonable decision to add fecal coliform monitoring to the permit, despite objections from the agency engineers who prepared it.
Earlier in the summer, the MDEQ permit board modified a sewage land application permit in Hattiesburg after an all-day evidentiary hearing. The Board amended the permit by requiring more frequent surface water monitoring than the engineers had provided in the final version. The appeal and the request for permit modification were made by citizens from Hattiesburg who referred, in their board presentation, to comments GRN and Tulane Environmental Law Clinic prepared on the Groundworx LLC land application permit.
Both permit modifications were made by the Board on its own motions, after presentations of data, maps and persuasive arguments. I have followed the MDEQ Permit Board on and off since 2003, and over the ensuing 11 years, permit modifications have happened very rarely. Two times in one summer is a big deal. The MDEQ Permit Board has often been percieived as a rubber stamp for a lumbering state agency. It proved this summer that it can be a more responsive decision maker. The Board members surprised us, and perhaps they have surprised themselves as well. Surface water quality in Mississippi was the beneficiary. All in all, this is a better result and we hope it is a sign of things to come.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Water Policy Director and works on Mississippi Water and Wetland Issues,