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EPA declares Port of Corpus Christi's Harbor Island desalination permit a 'draft'

The Port of Corpus Christi has proposed a desalination plant for Harbor Island
Posted at 11:04 AM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 17:45:55-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A water discharge permit issued to the Port of Corpus Christi Authority by the Texas Commissioner on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in December is not an "effective" permit, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

TCEQ Commissioners unanimously approved that permit in September 2022 for the port's Harbor Island seawater desalination facility, which was issued on Dec. 15.

As KRIS 6 News previously reported, the EPA began objecting to this permit in 2021 and filed an Interim Objection to the issuance of the permit on Dec. 15, 2021.

In a letter issued to the TCEQ dated Jan. 19, 2023, the EPA wrote that the issuance of that permit without addressing the objections in the Interim Objection is a violation of the Clean Water Act and the Memorandum of Agreement between the EPA and TCEQ.

"Until such time as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality responds to the Interim Objection to address the Environmental Protection Agency’s concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to view this permit as a draft permit and not an effective National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for CWA (Clean Water Act) purposes," the letter from the EPA states.

Additionally, the EPA said that given the draft status, there is no authorization for the Port of Corpus Christi Authority to discharge pollutants into any waters under the Clean Water Act.

Under the Clean Water Act "it is unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant to waters of the United States without authorization under specific provisions of the CWA, including the section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program," the letter states.

TCEQ responded to our request for comment with this written statement:

"TCEQ is reviewing the letter received by EPA and the agency’s options moving forward. TCEQ will not provide further comment due to potential litigation and a pending motion for rehearing regarding this permit."

Last week, Port Aransas Conservancy filed a motion for a rehearing with TCEQ on the issuing of this permit.

Conservancy President James King said that the letter Thursday by the EPA is not surprising given the objections from 2021 that were ignored by TCEQ.

"It's good news for the Coastal Bend, the port and TCEQ ought to sincerely consider taking the permit offshore, which we've been advocating for since day one," King said. "We are not anti-desal, but it needs to be done in the appropriate location. It needs to be done offshore and the science proves that."

Efforts by the port to obtain this permit have spanned at least four years, with the permit being remanded back to the State Office on Administrative Hearings twice.

The Port of Corpus Christi also responded to the letter from the EPA:

"The Port of Corpus Christi appreciates the rigorous application processes in place as we pursue permitting for the proposed desalination plant on Harbor Island. The letter issued by the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday bears no impact on the submission timeline for the Port of Corpus Christi’s water rights application.

The Port of Corpus Christi is committed to cooperating fully with the EPA as well as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure full compliance with the Clean Water Act. We are confident that the agencies will resolve all pending issues and allow this critical project to move forward for the benefit of our Coastal Bend communities."
Port of Corpus Christi Spokesperson