DEC Issues Permit to Seward Coal Export Facility

Mar 14, 2016
Lisa Oakley

After over six years of litigation, the Seward Coal Loading Facility finally has a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit. In 2009, on behalf of our clients the Sierra Club and Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Trustees for Alaska brought a citizen suit against Aurora Energy Services and the Alaska Railroad over its operations of the Coal Loading Facility. The suit focused on the Facility’s failure to secure a permit under the CWA for coal that continuously falls into Resurrection Bay when the Facility loads ships destined for Asia and South America. The goal of the suit was to force the Facility to obtain the permit to control the discharges of coal and protect water quality in Resurrection Bay.

For years, Aurora and the Railroad refused to get the requisite permit. Instead, they chose to spend millions of dollars fighting in court. In the fall of 2014, after many years battling over whether the Facility must obtain a permit, we succeeded. The Ninth Circuit found in our favor.

Over the following year and a half, we have worked on bringing this case to a close, which required adequately addressing the discharges through Facility improvements. In July of 2015, DEC issued a draft permit. After reviewing the permit, we found a variety of problems and submitted detailed comments to improve the permit and control coal discharges. Recognizing that corrections were needed, DEC issued a revised permit in November 2015. Again, we reviewed the permit and while we found substantial improvements from the first draft, there was still room for improvement. In early March of 2016, DEC issued its final permit, again further modifying and improving the permit based on our comments as well as others, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Through the administrative process, we were able to make sure the permit addresses and minimizes the discharges of coal into Resurrection Bay. While we have closed this chapter, we will continue to monitor the Facility to ensure it remains in compliance with the CWA and is taking the reasonable and appropriate steps to minimize the discharges of coal into Resurrection Bay. This is a victory long in the making and one that will protect the Bay for years to come.

Read all the blog posts on the Seward Coal Loading Facility.

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