News | October 4, 2016

Georgia court rules pulp mill’s pollution permit unlawful

Following a fifteen-year dispute between Rayonier Advanced Materials and the Altamaha Riverkeeper over the pulp mill’s pollution in Jesup, Georgia, an administrative law judge has invalidated the mill’s Clean Water Act permit because it allows violations of state water quality standards for color and odor.

“We are very pleased with the decision, which ensures greater protections for the Altamaha River and the communities who want to safely fish, swim, and paddle,” said Megan Hinkle, Staff Attorney at SELC. “Improving the pollution discharge permit is a very important and positive step forward, and we will continue to work toward enforcing tougher restrictions on color and odor for Georgia’s waterways.”

In December, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division renewed Rayonier AM's inadequate discharge permit, allowing the company to continue discharging 50-60 million gallons of polluted wastewater into the Altamaha River daily.

Representing Altamaha Riverkeeper, GreenLaw, Stack & Associates, and SELC challenged the pollution discharge permit, charging that the permit’s limits on odor and color do not go far enough to uphold state water quality standards.

The discharge often causes a visibly dark, foul-smelling plume that extends for miles downriver, and fishermen have complained that it makes the fish inedible downstream of the discharge. During a two-week hearing in June, several local witnesses testified about how the discharge impacted their use of the river.

“Fishermen, kayakers and recreationists of all sorts are aware of the awful stench and stain that is pumped into the river daily by Rayonier Advanced Materials, and the judge concluded that it interferes with citizens’ legitimate uses of the river,” said Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper.