Meridian Star

August 12, 2012

Cost over-runs at Kemper aren’t buying water quality protection

The Meridian Star


    Cost over-runs at the Kemper Plant have been in the news (Sun Herald, July 9).  Stream protection on the Kemper site in the upper Pascagoula watershed is not one of the reasons the project is approaching the $2.8 billion cap.

Coal runoff water contains acidic sulfur compounds, dissolved metals, and kills fish.  Sedimentation ponds will catch all the coal-tainted water from the massive strip mine at Kemper.

    Gulf Restoration Network commented to MDEQ in December that the design of these treatment ponds was not protective enough of the small creeks that receive pond discharge, or of the Okatibbee Reservoir, five miles downstream.

    These ponds are designed to only contain a 10-year rainfall event — 6.5 inches in 24 hour. Most of the past tropical storms and hurricanes crossing East Mississippi have exceeded this amount.

    It is significant that the other big lignite mine in Mississippi, the Red Hills Mine near Ackerman, has ponds designed to contain a 20-year rainfall event.

    Mississippi Power’s long-term supplier, North American Coal, operates the Red Hills and Kemper mines. For $535,000 — a fraction of Kemper’s $2.8 billion price tag — the coal company could build zero-discharge ponds, but it complained that the footprint of larger ponds would cover up too much lignite.

    MDEQ granted the permit for 10-year ponds. Some future hurricane will test this low-ball design. The cost of damage to Okatibbee Reservoir, and the Pascagoula drainage downstream will likely be more than $535,000.

Andrew Whitehurst

Assistant director of Science and Water Policy

Gulf Restoration Network