A decision on whether to invalidate the state permit allowing Rayonier Advanced Materials to discharge 60 million gallons of dark, smelly wastewater daily into the Altamaha River is now expected sometime in early September.
Beginning on June 3 and winding up June 16, Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Schroer heard seven days of testimony in the appeal filed by the Altamaha Riverkeeper concerning the NPDES permit granted last December to Rayonier Advanced Materials governing effluent discharges from its Jesup plant. The plant manufactures cellulose products primarily used in cigarette filters, as well as the fluff used in disposable diapers.
The hearing started in Atlanta and included a site visit to Jesup, two days of testimony in Blackshear and then four more days back in Atlanta. Closing briefs in the case are expected July 29 and closing arguments will be held in Atlanta August 10. Usually the court will rule within 30 days of closing arguments.
The legal and factual issues presented during the hearing challenged the validity of the of the EPD permit on the following grounds: 1) Failure to ensure compliance with narrative water quality standards for color, odor, and turbidity; 2) Failure to require that Rayonier AM meet the highest statutory and regulatory requirements for all new and existing point sources; and 3) Failure to require use of the best available technology. ARK, represented by GreenLaw, SELC and Stack & Associates, also argued that 4) The proposed study (required in the NPDES permit) does not ensure compliance with water quality standards at all times.
“ARK is gratified after 15 years of waiting for a new permit to have the opportunity to air our concerns about the Rayonier AM discharge in open court,” said Hutton Brown of GreenLaw. “We are committed to seeing this through until all the people who want to fully use the river, and at all times of the year, are able to do so.
Rayonier has been fending off criticism for polluting the Altamaha for more than 50 years. Increasingly, Rayonier AM stands out among its peers around the world for its failure to remedy wastewater issues. Sustainable practices are increasingly being adopted by even the most heavily polluting industries. The NPDES permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division nevertheless imposes little in the way of new restrictions on the plant, despite a plume of water discoloration that often stretches for miles downstream and can be observed in satellite pictures on Google Earth.
Rayonier AM has argued that the color and odor from their pollution is no different than a black water stream entering the river.