Two men holding an endangered gulf sturgeon, much like the twenty-six killed in the Pearl River Fish Kill. Photo by Byrd Vernon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Federal Government has finally begun to hold Temple-Inland, Inc., now a subsidiary of International Paper Company, accountable for the damage they incurred on the Pearl River. As covered by GRN, the damage was done in early August 2011. Fines could be as high as $1,125,000.
The fish kill occurred when Temple-Inland began pumping excessive amounts of “black liquor” into the Pearl River, apparently the result of an equipment malfunction. This “black liquor” is created in the process of making paper, the primary product of Temple-Inland.
When wood pulp is used to make paper, wood chips are cooked with sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide has a high pH level which is in turn mixed with the wood pulp byproduct lignin. The end product is “black liquor” which Temple-Inland introduced into the waters of the Pearl River. When introduced to the Pearl River, bacteria in the water digest the “black liquor” robbing the water of oxygen, and ultimately suffocating the wildlife in the water.
The consequences of the pollution discharge are difficult to measure, and the long term effects on the river may not be fully realized in the foreseeable future. The measurements available are simply appalling. Due to the actions of Temple-Inland, over 500,000 fish and mussels have died. Species killed by Temple-Inland include American eel, catfish, bass, bluefish, shad, and the endangered gulf sturgeon.
On December, 20th 2012, the Justice Department decided to file two criminal misdemeanor charges against Temple-Inland for the fish kill. The first of these charges is due to violations of their discharge permit issued under the Clean Water Act. This charges that Temple-Inland has “introduce[d]… any pollutant… other than in compliance with all applicable permits." This is a violation that Temple-Inland had admitted to the month of the accident. The court may order Temple-Inland to pay anywhere from $12,500 to $125,000 for this breach.
In addition, Temple-Inland faces consequences for violating the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966. This act adds an extra penalty for killing any fish located in a refuge. The Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Pearl River and has reported over 1,000 deaths of refuged fish from the Pearl River fish kill. Each one of these deaths count as a separate violation of the Act, and the fine for each violation may range from $100 to $1,000.
Between both of the charges that Temple-Inland faces, they may be asked to pay anywhere from $112,500 to $1,125,000. It is hoped that the highest penalty is awarded in order to deter these types of accidents in the future. It is also important that these funds are directed back into the effort to restore the river to its pre-spill state. Temple-Inland may still face charges under the Endangered Species Act for their role in killing twenty-six protected gulf sturgeon. They may also face charges for the effects their negligence has caused those who have been personally affected by the spill. The potential penalty is good news, but is just a step in the path to compensate for the extensive damage that this Bogalusa paper mill has brought to the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.
For GRN's coverage of the 2011 Pearl River Fishkill, check out our past blogs:
Paul Overbee is a Law Sudent at the University of Minnesota and worked as a Legal Intern for GRN