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Our view: Who stands for the environment?




Earlier this week, The Dispatch was the first to report on Columbus Light & Water's refusal to process KiOR's wastewater. The news was the latest in a string of bad news for the Texas-based public company, which has invested over $200 million in its Columbus plant. KiOR is idling that plant and may be facing bankruptcy without a significant capital investment, according to the company's annual report which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month. 


Should KiOR fail, much will be said about Mississippi's $75 million loan to the company. After all, people are still talking about a Yalobusha County beef plant, which in 2003 defaulted on a $55 million loan from the state. 


We think this latest news is a good opportunity to discuss the environmental impact of industries like KiOR. Our region's recent industrial growth certainly makes us proud. However, we have to ask whether anyone involved in recruiting business to the state is looking out for the well being of our environment. 


Terms of the deals to lure industry are understandably set behind closed doors, and state incentives are often rushed through the Legislature. KiOR's loan package was hastily approved in a specially called session of the Legislature.  


At the time, then-governor Haley Barbour said KiOR's process produces "virtually no waste or emissions." 


That statement appears questionable at best. According to a letter from CL&W CEO Todd Gale to Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and a separate one from KiOR to MDEQ, the types and amounts of chemicals and solids appearing in KiOR's wastewater varied wildly from month to month. KiOR acknowledges that catalyst -- their proprietary substance which converts wood chips to oil in a matter of seconds -- was likely the culprit in clogging CL&W pipes and a pump. In their March 11 letter to MDEQ, KiOR made an unlikely claim that their catalyst has the chemical makeup of "fine sand." 


Much of this is a war of words between a utility company seeking to operate under state guidelines and a business struggling to stay alive. From an environmental standpoint, though, it's clear we are dealing with more than water and fine sand. 


It's easier to dismiss environmental concerns when they are as abstract as a 1,000-mile-long oil pipeline in the Midwest or drilling in the Arctic, but no one wants a mess where they live. 


This community is in the business of producing such products as truck engines, helicopters, rolled steel, chemicals, toilet seats and furniture. A West Virginia company was in the business of producing chemicals when 7,500 gallons of a toxic compound leaked from a storage tank in January, poisoning drinking water for 300,000 area residents. 


While we are thankful for the various ways our industries add to our community, each has its own environmental concerns. And, we might add, responsibilities. 


Other parts of the country have activist citizens and organizations who -- sometimes over-zealously -- play the role of environmental watchdogs. We cannot rely on activists in this part of the country. 


We owe it to ourselves and future generations to make sure our state leaders, our elected supervisors and the rainmakers at the LINK are doing their due diligence when it comes to the environmental cost of bringing industry here.



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