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Miss. OKs coal mine to feed Kemper power plant

Jeff Amy, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A permit board of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality gave final approval Tuesday to a plan by Liberty Fuels to mine lignite, a soft form of coal, from about 1,000 acres in Kemper County over the next five years. The mine would feed the coal-fired power plant that Mississippi Power Co. is building nearby.

Environmentalists have fought mine permits because of their opposition to the $2.4 billion plant, but also because they say it would pollute streams leading to Okatibee Lake.

One of the opponents' main concerns is that runoff from sedimentation ponds would carry heavy metals such as arsenic into Chickasawhay and Tompeat creeks, which lead to the lake and ultimately to the Pascagoula River.

"They could have spent a very little amount of money and contained those outfalls, but the permit board let them spent the minimum amount of money and get away with it," said Louie Miller, Mississippi director for the Sierra Club.

However, the Sierra Club withdrew opposition during the process, easing the path to approval, though two individual opponents continued to fight.

Sierra Club is suing in Kemper County Chancery Court to block the air pollution permit for the power plant itself, Miller said.

Under the permit granted by the state, Liberty Fuels agreed to monitor fish and other life in the creek, as well as adhere to pollution limits.

In granting the water pollution permit, the permit board wrote that it "is protective of human health and the environment and is consistent with federal and state laws and regulations."

Liberty Fuels, a unit of NACCO Industries of Cleveland, Ohio, plans to mine lignite from 955 acres of a 2,299-acre area during the first five years of operation. Liberty also operates a mine north of Ackerman.

Mississippi Power Co., a unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co., will own the mine and equipment, contracting with Liberty Fuels to run it. Documents submitted to the Public Service Commission show that the mine is on track to cost $245 million, about $30 million more than originally planned, as the company spends more to buy land and mineral leases as well as equipment.

The application calls for Liberty Fuels to mine 2 million tons of lignite per year during the first five-year permit. Thereafter, it will mine 4.1 million tons per year through 2052.

The Kemper County operation eventually will dwarf North American Coal's other Mississippi lignite mining operation in Choctaw County. It was permitted in 1998 and the first coal was mined in late 1999. The Choctaw power plant began operation in 2002 and supplies power to the Tennessee Valley Authority.