JACKSON, Miss. — State officials are affirming a permit that allows Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County power plant to discharge water into a creek during high rainfall.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Permit Board voted unanimously Tuesday to reissue the permit with minor changes in how on-site sewage is treated and monitored.
The vote comes after a Meridian man challenging the permit since 2014, Austin “Dan” Check, refused to participate. Check said that Leyser Hayes, the Jackson lawyer who presided as a hearing officer, was biased because she formerly served as an assistant attorney general, and because Check has been involved in legal controversies against the attorney general’s office.
“You just happened to be picked and I don’t believe it was random,” Check said. Hayes refused to allow him to file a written objection to her participation, saying such documents had to be filed in advance. Check said he had only gotten notice of her participation Friday.
Hayes said such objections had been ruled out in a 1990 court case.
The water in the holding pond, including treated wastewater piped from Meridian, is used to generate steam to turn electricity-generating turbines. Mississippi Power’s customers are paying for the pipeline, part of $4.2 billion they could pay for the $6.9 billion plant.
Check complained in part because, after pond overflows in 2013 before the plant had a discharge permit, regulators allowed further discharges in a penalty order. He said that’s part of a pattern of MDEQ favoring Mississippi Power.
The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. is only supposed to let water overflow into a creek after three days of unusually heavy rain. Harry Wilson, the head of MDEQ’s environmental permitting division, said water in the holding pond isn’t harmful and said the creek would be running so high that water quality wouldn’t be harmed by overflows.
When the board issued the permit in 2014, it agreed to test the first three overflows for fecal bacteria, and consider placing limits on such bacteria. Wilson said there had been no overflows since 2014, and thus no tests.