Alcoa to appeal license revocation

by Keith Barber


Alcoa Power Generating Inc., a subsidiary of Alcoa, is planning to appeal a decision by the NC Division of Water Quality to revoke the aluminum giant’s 401water quality certification — a key component of the company’s bid to retain another 50 years of control over a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River and four hydroelectric dams in the vicinity of Badin Lake.


Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood said the company’s lawyers are currently looking closely at state law to understand the procedure for an appeal of the state agency’s revocation.

“It’s important that we protect our legal rights,” Belwood said.

On Dec. 1, Coleen Sullins, director of the NC Division of Water Quality (DWQ) sent a certified letter to Alcoa officials explaining that the state had learned that the aluminum-maker submitted “incorrect” information to DWQ as part of its application for a new license and “intentionally withheld information material to determining the project’s ability to meet the state’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.”

“The process of certification relies on applicants submitting accurate and comprehensive information to the division,” Sullins wrote. “When they do not, revocation is warranted.”

The evidence of Alcoa’s withholding of information came to light during the ongoing lawsuit brought by Stanly County and the Yadkin Riverkeeper against the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or DENR, for failing to exercise the full scope of its authority under the Clean Water Act when issuing the water quality certificate to Alcoa last year. The hearing has been suspended indefinitely, which means the legal process could drag on for some time.

Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, characterized Alcoa’s decision to appeal as a stall tactic and encouraged stakeholders in the Relicensing Settlement Agreement (RSA) to reconsider their position in said. “They misled everybody, saying they were making upgrades and complying with the regulations of the Clean Water Act and that was a total lie. They knew they couldn’t do it, so they withheld information from the state.”

Belwood denied Naujoks’ claim that Alcoa has been out of compliance with state water quality standards for 10 years. Belwood explained that Alcoa does not have a dissolved oxygen limit in its current license.

“The work we’ve been light of the state’s decision.

“When the stakeholders realize they’ve been lied to, the whole process has been done improperly and that the whole stakeholder process to get the RSA was fraudulent, that’s going to be held against [Alcoa],” Naujoks said. “The stakeholders should walk away from this.”

The Relicensing Settlement Agreement was signed by 23 stakeholders representing state and federal agencies, local governments, homeowners and environmental groups and submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doing is in anticipation of the requirements of our upcoming license,” Belwood said.


On Nov. 24, NC Sen. Stan in May 2007 as part of Alcoa’s license application.

Belwood denied that Alcoa lied to stakeholders or the NC Division of Water Quality.

“We supplied all the information the state needed to make a proper decision,” Belwood said. “No material information was withheld.”

Sullins’ letter to Alcoa officials on Dec. 1 contains excerpts from four Alcoa internal e-mails that appear to document the company’s intentional withholding of information from the state regulatory agency.

“The e-mail conversations should be put in perspective,” Belwood said. “They were just a few conversations among thousands that occurred over many years and represent the discussions of a team working on a very complex project. Over the course of many years, we never lost sight of the fact that we are required to meet water quality standards and our objective the entire time was to develop a plan that would do so.”

Naujoks contends that Alcoa not only lied to state officials, but company officials conspired to deceive stakeholders.

“To make themselves look good, Alcoa was saying, ‘We’re going to make all these dam upgrades to comply with water quality standards,’ even though they had been out of compliance for 10 years,” Naujoks Bingham (R-Davidson) sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement division in Atlanta after a whistleblower told YES! Weekly that Alcoa has experienced problems with at least one of its four hydroelectric dams and those problems could pose a significant environmental and public health risk.

The source, who requested anonymity due to concerns about job security, said Alcoa has had a longstanding problem with hydraulic oil and mechanical grease leaching into the Yadkin River in the Nov. 10 edition of YES! Weekly.

Belwood said that Alcoa is aware of the allegations leveled by Sen. Bingham, and company officials have attempted to contact the senator’s office to learn more. Belwood said that Alcoa is conducting its own investigation of the allegations of pollution of the Yadkin River, and the company believes it is in compliance with all state and federal regulations.

Roger Dick, a Stanly County banker and community activist, said these recent developments cast even more doubt on Alcoa’s record of environmental stewardship.

“The more important issue right now is can this company be trusted with the health of our environment and human beings?” Dick said. “There’s good reason to believe there’s more they’re not telling us.”