Wave Maker’s News: After Fish Kill, New Protections for Pearl Uncertain

This article is excerpted from Wave Maker’s News, our quarterly update on all things water in the Gulf of Mexico, check out the full newsletter here.Treatment pond at the Temple-Inland factory. GRN photo, flight provided by Southwings.In August 2011, the Temple-Inland paper company in Bogalusa, LA dumped a massive amount of pollution into the Pearl River, one of the ecological gems of the Gulf Coast. This irresponsible act resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fish and mussels – not to mention the impacts on millions of the tiny invertebrates that form the base of the aquatic food web.State and federal agencies are looking into the impacts of this spill and are assessing damages for which Temple-Inland will be held financially accountable. The first agency to settle was the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, fining Temple-Inland $760,245.86. However, several other agencies have not finished their civil and criminal investigations, including the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.Collecting these fines is an important step, but, Mississippi, Louisiana, and federal agencies must also ensure that any fines are dedicated to the restoration and improvement of the Pearl River ecosystem. Also, these agencies must make sure that a disaster like this does not happen again at this paper plant, or in any other waterbody in Louisiana and Mississippi. While we strongly disagreed with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) decision to allow the Temple-Inland plant to reopen so quickly, LDEQ has recently set several deadlines for improving the plant. We are supportive of the improvements, but it’s essential that these improvements are coupled with stricter pollution limits in the plant’s waste discharge permits, which are up for renewal. Further, these requirements should be extended to all paper plants in Louisiana and Mississippi.The goal of the Clean Water Act was to eliminate pollution in America’s waters by 1985. This is still a dream deferred, but out of this disaster, perhaps we can at least reduce the pollution that is flowing out of the paper plants into the waters of Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf.Matt Rota is GRN’s Director of Science and Water Policy.

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