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AEG sued by Southern Environmental Law Center over illegal pollution

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The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has sued to stop Active Energy Renewable Power and Lumberton Energy Holdings, subsidiaries of Active Energy Group (AEG) from illegally polluting the Lumber River in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The complaint filed by the conservation groups on 10 March in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (NC) outlines concerns regarding unpermitted discharges into the river and its tributary, Jacob’s Branch, from AEG’s property contaminated with toxic solvents in Lumberton, NC.

AEG has developed technology that converts waste biomass, such as residual biomass, including bark and treetops/branches, into CoalSwitch™ pellets that perform in the same way as coal, but reduce emissions, particulate matter, and fly ash. CoalSwitch can co-fire with coal or replace up to 100% of coal in power stations without requiring plant modification.

The company recently secured a further $10 million (€8.2 million) in funding, allowing it to accelerate the development of its CoalSwitch production facility.

Heather Hillaker, staff attorney at the SELC, said: “Active Energy Renewable power can’t pollute the Lumber River without a state permit to limit pollutants.

“Given the harmful toxins present on Active Energy’s property, pollution limits and frequent monitoring are crucial to protect the health of the Lumber River, people, and wildlife.”

In the absence of the required permit, AEG can store wastewater on-site, sell it, or store it off-site, but cannot pollute with Lumber River without a lawful permit to monitor for and limit toxic pollutants that are present on its contaminated Brownfield property and could be discharged into the river.

According to the SELC, by not applying for a permit from the state, AEG has evaded disclosing information to interested communities about its treatment of contaminated wastewater at the site, current pollution limits, and more rigorous monitoring for known toxins present on its site.

“For almost two years, Active Energy has been violating laws that help keep the waters of our designated wild and scenic Lumber River safe and clean,” said Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II.

“By refusing to even submit a wastewater permit application, this company is showing the community and our members how little it cares about the health and safety of the anglers, swimmers, boaters – everyone who lives in Lumberton and Robeson County.”

The SELC also claims that while AEG has told investors that it plans to rapidly scale up production to around 440,000 tons of black pellets per year, once the Lumberton plant is operational, its air permit currently only allows emissions from a 43,800 ton-per-year operation. It claims Active Energy has not disclosed to either regulators or nearby communities what pollution will be emitted into the air or water from its expanded facility.

Michael Rowan, chairman and CEO of AEG, told Bioenergy Insight that the allegations are "entirely without merit", stating: "The claims made against us by the SELC are entirely without merit. We have operated, and will continue to operate our plant in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. We are sure the courts will affirm this and this frivolous lawsuit will be dismissed.”