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Alcoa Offers 'Context' To Emails In Hopes Of Reclaiming State Support

Alcoa is battling to recover a key water quality certificate the state of North Carolina revoked at the end of last year. The revocation was based on emails that indicate Alcoa employees and consultants plotted to mislead regulators about the quality of water flowing from its dams on the Yadkin. Last month, Alcoa told WFAE its employees never misled the state, but declined to offer further explanation. Now the company has released evidence it hopes will put the claims to rest. The emails that troubled state water quality regulators do appear damning. For example, one expresses doubt that Alcoa's dams can actually meet water quality standards, and then says "I'm certain (state regulators ) would have a problem if they new." Alcoa has now released additional emails to show those statements in context. Spokesman Mike Belwood says it's obvious there was no deception afoot. "This was a discussion within a group that was ultimately resolved, and when you look at the entire record, you'll see not only was this resolved within our group," says Belwood. "(These) issues were also being discussed in other forums including the Water Quality Advisory Group meeting and including the reports that were filed with the state." That last part is the crux of Alcoa's argument. The company is essentially saying that no matter how bad the emails look, they should come as no surprise, since state regulators knew the challenge Alcoa was having meeting water quality standards. NC Division of Water Quality Director Colleen Sullins wrote in the notice of revocation that she believed Alcoa had intentionally withheld information. Her decision pleased Governor Bev Perdue and others state leaders who want to give Alcoa the boot and put the Yadkin River dams under state control. Alcoa has now appealed the revocation, saying the state didn't give it a chance to respond. "This decision was apparently made very quickly, and we are anxious to discuss the entire record," says spokesman Mike Belwood. Whether or not Alcoa has made a convincing case is unclear. A spokeswoman for the Division of Water Quality declined to comment while Alcoa's appeal is under review. Critics of Alcoa doubt the latest evidence will mend fences for the aluminum company. "Nothing that I've seen from this new information shows that they did not mislead state officials," says environmental activist Dean Naujoks of the Yadkin Riverkeeper. "I think this is more of a public relations move." If Alcoa is forced to start over in applying for a new water quality certificate from the state, the company says that will significantly delay its effort to get another 50-year hydropower license from the federal government. And that means a delay to many improvements in and around the dams which Alcoa has pledged to complete only after the license is renewed.