Alabama Circuit Judge Joel Laird ruled that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) illegally issued a water pollution discharge permit to HarGal Mining Partnership for a gold mine on Terrapin Creek in Cleburne County, Alabama.
Under Alabama law, clean water can be degraded only when the permittee demonstrates that the proposed discharge is necessary for “important economic or social development.” As shown by testimony in this case, ADEM automatically accepts unsupported claims from permit applicants that their pollution is necessary for important economic or social development. ADEM has no standards or guidelines by which to make an agency decision as to whether the pollution actually is “important.”
Judge Laird ruled that this lack of objective standards for determining what is or is not “important” is illegal. “Absent reviewable criteria in promulgated rules or enacted statutes governing the determination of important social or economic development, NPDES Permit No. AL0070793 is void.”
Judge Laird also ruled that the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, which oversees ADEM and hears all administrative appeals from ADEM decisions, acted illegally (1) by failing to consider the objections filed by Wild South and the Friends of Terrapin Creek and (2) by failing to include findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order regarding claims by Friends of terrapin Creek involving violations of water quality standards for metals.