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Plant opponents seek to block air permit
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Less than one month after state regulators made the controversial call to permit King America Finishing to continue dumping pollutants into the Ogeechee River — albeit, under “stringent” conditions — environmental activists are crying foul once more.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Inc. and GreenLaw, who fought to keep the textile manufacturer’s effluent from seeping into the river, have turned their focus toward the sky.

The organizations are challenging a renewal of the Screven County plant’s air pollution permit, claiming the current draft permit lacks the requirements to effectively measure and limit large quantities of emissions.

The draft allows King America Finishing to categorize itself as a “minor source” of hazardous air pollutants — a tag that would impose a 10-ton limit each year for cancer-causing pollutants such as formaldehyde.

The limit falls well short of a potential 14 tons of emissions environmentalists say the plant is capable of producing; which is why GreenLaw and Ogeechee Riverkeeper oppose a permit that, they say, does not specify direct methods for monitoring the 10-ton limit.

“The current draft permit lacks stringent requirements to ensure that King America is not emitting large quantities of hazardous air pollutants, singled out by the Clean Air Act because they cause cancer or other serious health effects,” said Ashten Bailey of GreenLaw, in comments submitted to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on behalf of the Riverkeeper.

“Courts have held, and the EPA has incorporated into its guidance, that such ‘blanket restrictions on actual emissions’ are impermissible because they are ‘virtually impossible to verify or enforce,’” she said.

In the GreenLaw comments, Bailey also pointed to a history of pollution violations as a basis for not renewing the company’s air pollution permit — which was issued in 2007.

They noted a series of pH violations since 2003 and an unpermitted production line that “illegally discharged wastewater into the Ogeechee River for approximately five years.”

The company’s illegal discharges came to light in 2011, following the largest fish kill in Georgia history, when an estimated 38,000 fish died, all downstream from the Dover facility.

GreenLaw’s objections were the only public remarks on the permit.

EPD’s Eric Cornwell issued a statement regarding the comments and future of the pollution permit.

“EPD is currently reviewing GreenLaw’s comments and will address these accordingly. The draft permit does indeed contain requirements for tracking and recording, on a monthly basis, the facility’s emissions of hazardous air pollutants (including formaldehyde), using process information such as raw material and fuel usage,” Cornwell said. “Furthermore, the draft permit requires that King Finishing notify the division promptly if there is an emissions exceedance. To my knowledge, EPA Region 4 has made no adverse comment on this approach in their review of Georgia’s (air pollution) permits.

“A final decision will be reached on this permit after EPD has addressed the comments and made any necessary adjustments to the permit,” he said.

Attorney Lee DeHihns, who represents King America Finishing, said the company has monitored emissions pursuant to permit guidelines and never knowingly exceeded the 10-ton limit; he says the company will continue do the same with a renewed permit.

“The fact that we can emit more than 10 tons is irrelevant because we would be violating the permit if we did so,” DeHihns said. “We have always complied with the terms of our permit, and once we get it, we will comply the terms of the new permit.”

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp said objections to the draft permit are part of ongoing efforts to protect the people and ecosystems around the river.

“We are continuing to look at every aspect of the air and water permits to make sure the Ogeechee River basin and the people around the basin are protected,” she said. “The pollutants in the air fall out in a radius around the river. The wildlife and plants in that area are greatly affected by that pollution. So, we want to make sure the plant is always following all EPD’s guidelines.”