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Alcoa Emails Shed Light On State Regulator's Concerns

A document filed with federal energy authorities sheds more light on the latest dispute between Alcoa and the North Carolina Division of Water Quality. Emails detail what the state believes is proof Alcoa intentionally misled regulators. The emails certainly sound like Alcoa was conspiring to keep state officials in the dark. "I'm certain that North Carolina Division of Water Quality would have a problem if they knew," wrote an Alcoa consultant in 2008. The exchanges center on whether or not Alcoa's dams on the Yadkin River can meet state standards for the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. Dissolved oxygen is crucial for fish and plant health. Special equipment must be installed in dams to re-aerate the water as it passes through. Alcoa convinced the North Carolina Division of Water Quality that the dams would meet the standards, so the division gave Alcoa its stamp of approval - what's called a 401 certificate. But emails that surfaced a few weeks ago during an appeal of that permit suggest Alcoa was hiding something. Alcoa's point man for the Yadkin River relicensing project writes in one email that the dams would not meet the state's water quality standards all of the time. "The state doesn't know that," he wrote in 2006. And then a few months later he added "If we even begin to suggest this to the state. . . it can't issue us a 401. Alcoa must stand by its conviction." When the Division of Water Quality saw those emails in court, it quickly revoked the 401 certificate it had given Alcoa. "The issuance of the 401 certification was based on incomplete or inaccurate information," says Division of Water Quality spokeswoman Susan Massengale. Alcoa is appealing the revocation. Without approval from the Division of Water Quality, Alcoa can't get another 50-year license to operate dams on the river. Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood says the emails were "unfortunate." "But you have to understand they were just part of an internal debate about design assumptions among the team that's working on the project," says Belwood. "In the end the plan that was put forward and accepted by the state will meet the state's water quality standards." Belwood says the employees and consultants identified in the email exchanges that state regulators found most troubling are still involved with Alcoa's relicensing project. Filing from the state regarding the Alcoa emails.

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