Photo | Lagniappe
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will hold a public hearing Thursday for air and water permits at Plant Barry in North Mobile County.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is holding a public hearing on three permits for Alabama Power’s Plant Barry this week that could play a role as it moves ahead with plans to “cap in place” more than 21 million tons of toxic coal ash created over decades of burning coal to fuel the plant.
The utility is seeking an air permit for a new gas generator, plus the renewals of its Clean Air Act permit and a permit to discharge pollutants into surface water. The hearing will take place Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m., at the conference room in the Hampton Inn & Suites in Saraland. Written comments can be submitted until 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Michael Sznajderman, manager of corporate information and media relations for Alabama Power, said more information will be provided at the hearings, but the proposed air permit includes “any new requirements under the federal Clean Air Act that have become applicable since the last permit cycle.”
Sznajderman said Alabama Power has already been complying with new requirements as they become effective. Under the proposed water permit, on the other hand, “the company would monitor on a frequent basis for a host of new constituents that were not previously required.”
Alabama Power is currently building a new wastewater treatment plant on-site, one expected to allow the company to begin dewatering the state’s largest coal ash pond as it prepares to consolidate and “cap in place” the 21 million tons of solid waste left behind.
According to Mobile Baykeeper, the water permit regulates how much pollution can be discharged directly into the Mobile River from Plant Barry, “including what will be released during the dewatering and closure of the coal ash pond.” Baykeeper further alleges “the current permit allows for 58.6 pounds of arsenic to be released every day as a monthly average. There is no daily maximum for the amount of arsenic that can be released (under the new proposed permit).”
What’s more, Baykeeper claims “the proposed permit also has no enforceable limit on the amount of water discharged. That means Alabama Power could release all 40.3 million gallons of coal ash-contaminated water into Mobile River in just seven days, and they would only have to test the water once.”
“These permits regulate how much and what kind of pollution can be released to air and water from Plant Barry,” Baykeeper Program Director Cade Kistler explained in a statement. “Therefore, they should ensure our community has clean air to breathe and protect our ability to swim, fish and play in the Delta and Mobile Bay. The facility has numerous issues related to the coal ash stored on-site, but even the regular operations of the plant create a great deal of pollution to our air and water. One key step in making sure these permits responsibly limit that pollution is for the public to make their voices heard at the upcoming hearings.”
Kistler also claims the company’s air permit has been expired for five years and “has allowed the power plant to release 8.2 million tons of CO2, 3,495 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2,361 tons of nitrogen oxides, 440,000 pounds of sulfuric acids, 1700 pounds of selenium, 130 pounds of arsenic, and 29 pounds of mercury into the air in 2019 alone.”
Sznajderman wouldn’t address those allegations, but said “there are no ‘expired’ permits” and the existing air and water permits “are still in full force and effect.”
“Alabama Power always strives to meet or do better than the environmental regulations require,” he wrote. “The company has prepared and submitted to ADEM complete, timely and thorough permit applications, and the agency has been deliberate in developing these draft permits, ensuring they include and satisfy all applicable rules and regulations.”
Kistler noted the hearing will not address the coal ash pond itself, but anyone interested should “stay tuned, as there will be an additional permit and public hearing in the near future.”
Those interested in submitting written comments or signing up to speak at the hearing can find relevant links embedded in the public notice on ADEM’s website, adem.alabama.gov.
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