July 9, 2008

EPA Urged to Give Permit to Facility in Sauget

By Kim Mcguire, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 9--EAST ST. LOUIS -- Citing its economic value to surrounding communities, dozens of people on Tuesday urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant a crucial air permit to a Sauget hazardous waste disposal facility which operated for years without one.

The federal agency issued Veolia Environmental Services a draft permit last month and will decide by mid-September whether to issue a final permit. In 2003, the Illinois EPA issued the facility an air permit, but a lawsuit by two environmental groups forced the U.S. EPA to intervene and assume permitting authority.

The majority of the people who spoke at Tuesday's hearing supported Veolia, saying the company has been a good neighbor to Sauget and Cahokia, often disposing of St. Clair County's medical and solid waste for free.

"We appreciate the investment they've made in the region and the valuable service they provide," said state Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, to a standing ovation.

The facility, which includes three incinerators, has been cited by state and federal regulators for pollution problems, fires and accidents. In 2006, it was cited for exceeding emission limits for benzene and arsenic.

"We urge EPA to deny this permit as this facility's history does not suggest it should remain open as it has been operating," said Kathleen Logan Smith, director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

But Doug Harris, Veolia's general manager, said many of the facility's problems occurred long ago under different owners. Other issues raised by EPA, he said, have either been settled or dismissed.

"We think EPA has done a good job with the draft permit -- it's a pretty well-written document and we don't expect to be making major comments," Harris said.

Kathy Andria, of the American Bottom Conservancy which successfully sued EPA to force the permitting decision, questioned agency officials about how they notified the public about Tuesday's hearing. The notice the agency sent out in June, as well as subsequent news releases, did not specify where the meeting would be held within Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's East St. Louis Higher Education Campus. A news release sent out Tuesday stated the hearing would take place "tomorrow."

Dozens of Veolia's employees and supporters, however, showed up for the meeting on time.

"This is a farce," Andria said.

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