AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The City of Eagle Pass and Maverick County have sued Texas for issuing a permit allowing a coal plant to discharge wastewater into tributaries of the Rio Grande.
Maverick County sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Travis County Court on Oct. 5 and Eagle Pass, the county seat, followed up with another lawsuit the next day, joined by members of seven families, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Maverick County Environmental and Public Health Association.
Eagle Pass, pop. 56,000, is on the Rio Grande, across the river from Piedras Negras, north of Laredo and south of Del Rio.
The dispute centers on the state's renewal of a permit allowing Dos Republicas Coal Partnership to discharge waste from its Eagle Pass Mine into Elm and Hediondo [Stinking] creeks, which flow into the Rio Grande.
The Eagle Pass Mine is about 5 miles north-northeast of Eagle Pass, in Maverick County.
County residents used the affected creeks for agriculture, fishing and livestock.
Eagle Pass takes Rio Grande water downstream from the wastewater discharge points and uses it as drinking water.
The city and county say there were numerous problems with the way the TCEQ approved the Dos Republicas permit application.
For instance, the TCEQ should have done an anti-degradation review involving three levels of protection. Anti-degradation analyses are done by comparing concentrations of pollutants in the proposed discharge to baseline concentrations in the receiving water bodies.
But Dos Republicas never provided any concentrations of pollutants in the proposed discharge in its application or for the contested case hearing, the plaintiffs say.
The TCEQ also failed to conduct a Tier 2 anti-degradation review of the mine waste discharges to two tributaries of Elm Creek, which runs north-south through the mine site, past a county park, and through Eagle Pass, according to the complaints.
"TCEQ staff did not collect or review site-specific data of the type needed to develop an index of biotic integrity for these tributaries" and "determined that these tributaries had minimal aquatic life use" and "did not treat these two tributaries as fishable/swimmable," the complaint states.
The TCEQ also overruled a ruling of administrative law judges, who recommended approving the application only under certain conditions.
One condition was a boron effluent limit for all discharges of 2.0 mg per liter. The judges also recommended the permit require monitoring of aluminum. But the TCEQ signed a final order issuing the permit without the conditions.
Nor did the TCEQ evaluate whether chronic effluent limits should be included in the permit. Such limits are required for discharges into streams that reach a perennial water body within 3 miles.
Another error was that the TCEQ authorized discharge on private property owned by plaintiff Boulware and Anson Family Ltd. Dos Republicas testified that it would change a route to go around the private property, but the new route still crosses the property.
"TCEQ never conducted an evaluation of whether the newly proposed route crosses plaintiff's private property and whether a watercourse exists at that location," the complaint states.
The TCEQ said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Both lawsuits want the permit revoked.
Maverick County is represented by David Frederick, with Frederick, Perales, Allmon & Rockwell; Eagle Pass by Adam Friedman, with McElroy, Sullivan, Miller, Weber & Olmstead, both of Austin.
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