Court sides with NC over Alcoa certification

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RALEIGH (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected an effort by an Alcoa Inc. subsidiary to speed up the federal license the company needs to operate dams on North Carolina’s Yadkin River for up to 50 more years.
The dams include the one that impounds High Rock Lake.
Alcoa and North Carolina officials are fighting over who will control the dams originally built to supply electricity to a now-closed aluminum plant that once employed hundreds in Badin.
The appeals court based in Washington, D.C., ruled against the company’s arguments that North Carolina water-quality regulators improperly issued a key certification. The certification came with the condition that Alcoa post bond guaranteeing $240 million in improvements bringing the dams up to water-quality standards.
The company’s four hydroelectric dams are not currently meeting standards as they draw deep water with low dissolved oxygen levels and discharge that water into the river.
The appeals court determined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could not issue a new operating license until the water-quality certification is granted.
State regulators have since revoked the certification to Alcoa Power Generating Inc. Administrative hearings last year revealed internal Alcoa emails that showed the company intentionally withheld information on the project’s ability to meet water quality standards, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said in reaching that decision.
Alcoa said the emails were taken out of context.
Alcoa will continue pursuing a new federal license, spokesman Mike Belwood said.
The permit is opposed by Gov. Beverly Perdue, whose administration hopes to encourage local job growth by attracting industries with dam-generated electricity and by having greater freedom to draw river water.