Okatibbee Reservoir and portions of the future mine site. In recent months, Mississippi Power has applied for three different environmental permits for its dirty, expensive and unnecessary Kemper coal plant and mine. One of these permit applications covers wetland loss during pipeline construction. Two others cover mining operations including sedimentation ponds to treat runoff and mine water.
At a public hearing held by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) concerning the two mining permits, GRN and dozens of citizens urged MDEQ to deny the permits and put a stop to this destructive project. As currently designed, the sedimentation ponds will catch the stormwater runoff in the mining area, supposedly settle out the sediment and harmful acidic components, and discharge the “treated” water into two creeks that feed into the Okatibbee Reservoir, five miles downstream. The people who fish and swim in Okatibbee should be very concerned about harmful mining runoff washing into the Reservoir, not to mention impacts on the Pascagoula River drainage beyond.
To add insult to injury, the mining discharges could be completely avoided if Mississippi Power and its partners were willing to invest an extra half million dollars to build larger, no-discharge ponds. With an overall price tag of upwards of $2.8 billion for the Kemper project, this investment in clean water would represent less than one tenth of one percent of the total project costs!
The MDEQ permit board, composed entirely of executive agency employees and governor’s appointees, granted both permits for the Kemper mine on Tuesday Dec. 13, 2011. In response to comments from GRN and others, a few additional limits were added for toxic compounds in the treatment pond effluent water, and some biological monitoring was required in the streams that receive the water. However, these treatment ponds remain the cheapest ponds that can be built and still satisfy regulations. Mississippi Power could do so much more for the health of the Okatibbee Reservoir and the waters that drain into the Pascagoula River.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy.