For Immediate Release (Thursday, January 12, 2006):
Ken Kramer, Sierra Club, 512-476-6962
Eric Allmon, Attorney, Lowerre & Frederick, 512-482-9345
Donna Hoffman, Sierra Club, 512-477-1729
Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club consists of over 25,000 members.
The Chapter spans the entire state of Texas, excepting El Paso, which
is part of the Rio Grande Chapter.
Located in Austin, the Lone Star Chapter's State Conservation Office
serves Sierrans as their grassroots communications center. We also provide
Sierrans with a full time professional activist staff employed to represent
Sierrans as we fight at the state level to protect and conserve Texas'
diverse and valuable natural heritage.
Sierra Club Acts to Overturn Paper Mill Wastewater Permit
Files Motion with State Agency to Force Review of Permit
(Austin)—The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club announced today that the group has filed a motion with the state environmental agency to overturn the agency’s issuance of a wastewater discharge permit to an East Texas paper mill whose past discharges have been blamed for water quality problems in Lake Sam Rayburn. The Sierra Club filed the motion earlier this week with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), whose Executive Director approved the permit in late December.
The paper mill, located in Lufkin, is now owned by a Canadian paper manufacturing firm, Abitibi Consolidated, Inc., although the permit is still in the name of Donohue Industries, Inc., another Canadian firm that was acquired by Abitibi. Historically the mill has discharged wastewater in large volumes into Paper Mill Creek, a tributary of the Angelina River. Farther downstream the Angelina River is impounded to form the Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
At present the Lufkin mill is shut down for economic reasons. Recent press stories have indicated that Abitibi is considering reopening the mill, although there are also persistent rumors that the company is interested in selling the mill to another operator. A renewed permit would be necessary in either case.
The Sierra Club and Lake Sam Rayburn interests want to make sure that if the mill does resume operation, it will operate under a strengthened permit that places tighter controls on the pollutants discharged by the mill and imposes effective monitoring of those pollutant discharges.
“Our aim is not to prevent the mill from reopening,” said Ken Kramer, state director of the Sierra Club, “but rather to make sure that the paper mill operates cleanly and in a way that protects the water quality in the Angelina River and Lake Sam Rayburn.”
“We recognize,” said Kramer, “that local leaders in Lufkin view the mill as an important economic asset, but Lake Sam Rayburn is a valuable economic asset to all of East Texas.
We are taking this step (filing the motion to overturn the permit) because we want to strengthen the pollution control requirements placed on the mill in order to make sure that the mill’s discharges do not damage the lake.”
Persistent concerns have been raised in the past several years by bass anglers as well as residents and business owners with property on Lake Sam Rayburn that fish kills and certain high pollution levels in the lake are attributable at least in part to wastewater discharges from the paper mill upstream.
Two of those individuals are Dr. Bill Shelton of Lufkin and Walt West of Zavala, both of whom are Sierra Club members and both of whom have joined with the Sierra Club in the filing of the motion to overturn the TCEQ permit to the paper mill.
“Doc” Shelton has served as the director for an annual bass fishing tournament that has been held on Sam Rayburn Reservoir for nine consecutive years. He is also an avid bass fisherman and has been an active member and office in two local bass fishing clubs in the Lufkin area for years.
Walt West, who is retired, lives with his wife in a home on the shoreline of Sam Rayburn and has enjoyed fishing, boating, and other recreational activities on the lake.
Both individuals feel that there have been impacts on the water quality of the lake from past discharges by the paper mill. Two examples of those concerns relate to aluminum discharges from the mill and the impact of discharges on dissolved oxygen levels necessary for healthy fish populations.
A key contention by the Sierra Club in the motion to overturn the permit is that the TCEQ erred in denying the Club, Doc Shelton, and Walt West “standing” to contest the permit in a contested case hearing that could have raised and dealt with issues of concern about the paper mill’s discharges and the pollutant limitations in the permit.
The state courts have consistently recognized “recreational interest” as a legitimate claim for standing in pollution control permits, yet TCEQ denied the request from the Club, its members, and a number of others for a hearing on the permit, despite the obvious recreational interests of those requesting the hearing.
One TCEQ Commissioner, Larry Soward, disagreed with the other two commissioners at that time, confirming that recreational interest was a legitimate claim for standing and that at least the Sierra Club should be allowed to contest the permit on that basis.
TCEQ has until early February to grant or overrule the motion filed by the Sierra Club. If no action is taken by the agency by then, the Sierra Club can appeal the permit approval to state district court.