February 10, 2012
Mark Nuhfer, Chief (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Municipal and Industrial Permits Section
US EPA Region 4
Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Atlanta, GA 30303-8960
Marcus Zobrist, Chief (email@example.com)
Industrial Permits Branch
US Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Re: NPDES permit for Buckeye Dissolving Pulp Mill, Perry, Florida
We are writing to ask for your help in getting some clear answers about the above-named facility. As you know, the Buckeye dissolving pulp mill is operating under a wholly inadequate administratively continued permit, lacking permit limits for many pollutants, which was last issued well before the turn of the 21st century (July 1990). They are discharging many tens of millions of gallons of effluent per day with virtual impunity.
The Office of Water has a long history of interest in this facility, and has been very involved in efforts to address this permitting fiasco. For approximately a year, a request from Buckeye and the Florida DEP for several Site Specific Alternative Criteria (SSAC) that would be required for Buckeye to qualify for an NPDES permit under state and federal rules has been under review by EPA Region 4. The Clean Water Network of Florida sent extensive legal and scientific comments regarding the proposed SSACs, and also had several meetings with Region 4 staff.
Recently, Buckeye sent a press release (see attached) announcing that it would be increasing its production of dissolved pulp by 9% and decreasing its production of fluff pulp by the same amount. Due to the large volume of pulp from the mill, and the significantly higher toxicity of wastewater from dissolving pulp, a major change to the composition and toxicity of their discharge will undoubtedly result. We contacted the water program at Region 4 immediately to ask if they had received notice of this change, and/or expected to receive a modification in the SSAC requests from Buckeye (a copy of the correspondence is attached). No reply has been forthcoming.
In early January we contacted the Florida DEP district water office in Jacksonville and spoke to Jeff Martin, district director. He was aware of Buckeye’s plans to increase their production of dissolved pulp but had not received anything in writing from Buckeye and didn’t plan to request anything. He said he would let me know if he learned anymore about the changes. We have heard nothing more from him to date.
Here is the crux of our concerns:
- Buckeye’s last valid permit was for a 60 mgd (or more) discharge to a Class V industrial river. The receiving stream, the Fenholloway River, was upgraded to Class III in January 1998. Buckeye’s most recent state industrial wastewater permit expired in 1995 and has never been revised or reissued. The state and Buckeye claim that the mill is legally operating on an administratively continued permit. Given the change in use classification of the receiving water, and the extreme inadequacies of the expired permit, that claim is debatable.
- Twice since the Class V permit expired, the FL DEP gave notice of its intent to issue Buckeye a permit to build a 15-mile pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico for a new discharge location, with new permit limits. Both times we challenged the proposed permits and spent considerable money and time to prepare for the administrative hearings that were scheduled. Both times, the FL DEP withdrew the proposed permits shortly before the hearings were to begin. The last case was approximately five years ago. In effect the facility has been able to administratively extend its antique permit through the convenient fiction of DEP’s notice/hearing/cancellation procedures.
- In the meantime, Buckeye has applied for three SSACs; all were approved by the state and are pending review at EPA. But the applications for these site-specific water quality criteria were submitted prior to Buckeye’s new plan to increase production of dissolving pulp.
- It’s no secret that the Florida CWN and the local residents we represent oppose the pipeline and the SSACs. Even with the enormous dilution power of the Gulf of Mexico and the weakened criteria for transparency, dissolved oxygen and iron authorized by the SSACs, the discharge would still require a maximum-size mixing zone for chronic toxicity at the mouth of the Fenholloway River. As you are aware, a mixing zone cannot compromise the designated uses of the receiving waters. Since the new point of discharge will be in the midst of some of the most important fisheries and shellfish harvesting areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, we believe that the taxpayers and other (non-Buckeye related) business interests in the area deserve to know fairly precisely how the planned change in production will affect the discharge which is admittedly toxic.
- Additionally, the EPA has shown several times that the discharge contains levels of dioxin that are orders of magnitude above the adopted water quality criteria; how will the planned production increases affect dioxin loadings? Based on EPA’s Cluster Rule analyses, we know that dissolving pulp contains considerably more dioxin, furans, AOX and other toxics than does fluff pulp, especially where, as in Buckeye’s case, the fluff pulp bleaching process has been upgraded to reduce the formation of dioxins. We also know that an increase in dissolved pulp production will result in higher specific conductance, color, chloroform and other potentially toxic constituents in the waste stream.
We are writing to request clarification of the following:
1. Can Buckeye simply increase their loading rates of toxins and other pollutants when their permit (for a Class V water) is long expired, and their current discharge is well documented to be in violation of applicable water quality standards (hence the pending SSACs and pipeline construction proposal)?
2. Does Buckeye have a duty to submit a proposal to modify its permit application and its proposed SSACs, given the increase in their planned discharge of pollutants that will contribute to violations of otherwise applicable water quality criteria?
We would also like to ask that this letter and its attachments be added to the comments and other materials that Florida Clean Water Network submitted to EPA Region 4 in regards to the Buckeye SSAC applications.
Finally, we would very much appreciate an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this matter. Buckeye’s free ride under an antique permit not only continues unabated but appears to be about to get worse rather than better, placing firms who follow the rules and meet their pollution control mandates at an unfair disadvantage in the marketplace. We would like to discuss how this situation could be averted. Please call Linda Young at the number below to arrange a meeting with us. Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Linda Young, Director
Clean Water Network of FL