Lawsuit claims United Bulk violating Clean Water Act

Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a coal terminal in Plaquemines Parish, alleging the facility has violated the Clean Water Act for years by allowing coal and petroleum coke to fall into the Mississippi River.

“We want United Bulk to abide by the law that already exists,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. “Pursuing this suit is the only way of preventing United Bulk from polluting the Mississippi River.”

United Bulk Terminals Davant operates a bulk materials storage and handling facility. The lawsuit alleges the facility allows coal and petroleum coke to fall into the river and onto the bank of the river during the loading of ships.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club.

The suit says the environmental groups have been documenting unpermitted discharges of coal and petroleum coke from the facility since 2009.

Groups have been documenting the black plumes, and piles of coke and petroleum coal sitting in piles under the conveyor belt, according to Scott Eustis, coastal wetland specialist for the Gulf Restoration Network.

The pollution has been reported to the state Department of Environmental Quality, he said, but “their response has been inadequate at best.”

The state issued a consolidated compliance order and notice of potential penalty against the facility on Jan. 23. It included many of the same concerns as the lawsuit, primarily that the company failed to clean up spilled products immediately.

“According to the facility representative, the cleanup occurs as long as the river is low. When the river is high, the piles of coal and coke are submerged in water and cleanup does not occur,” according to the order.

The lawsuit asks the court in part to declare that the facility is in violation of the Clean Water Act, to order United Bulk to stop allowing coal and petroleum coke to fall into the Mississippi River, to order it to clean up the material from the batture and submerged bed of the river near the facility, and to make the facility pay for long-term independent monitoring of the cleanup efforts.

An emailed statement from United Bulk Terminals Davant in response to the lawsuit said company representatives are disappointed that the environmental groups chose to file a lawsuit “despite our ongoing and constructive dialogue with them since they first came to us last November.”

The statement says the company allocated more than $80 million toward modernizing the facility to improve its safety and environmental impact.

In the company’s Feb. 10 response to DEQ’s January compliance order, it said millions have been set aside to upgrade the conveyor system and permits for the work are pending.

In addition, the company told DEQ that it had recently improved its cleanup procedure and is removing any material under the conveyors on a daily basis.

Representatives from the environmental groups said the alleged violations have been going on for years and they haven’t seen any change during flyovers during normal operations and after tropical storms.

“We expect United Bulk and all industries along the river to follow the law,” said Al Armendariz, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.