DEQ office pushing EPA to detail its objections at 2 facilities
The state Department of Environmental Quality will need to decide in the next month on which court action to try next in an effort to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to either find something wrong with permits for two facilities or remove their objections.
At issue are permits DEQ issued to Nucor for construction of a pig iron facility and a direct reduced iron plant in Convent. The most recent permit approval for both was made in January 2011. The reduced iron facility is within weeks of operation and the pig iron facility has been put on hold until the issues with EPA can be worked out.
After the permits were granted, the grain export business next to the Nucor property, Zen-Noh Grain Corporation, filed an objection to the permit with the EPA and eventually had to take the federal agency to court to force it to make a decision.
Environmental groups also filed objections saying that there should have been one permit to cover both facilities instead of each facility getting its own permit. There are rules in place to avoid having large facilities break up their operations under separate permits to get around having to follow more strict regulations for air quality. These “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” conditions are applied to facilities that release a certain amount of pollution.
In the Nucor case, both facilities had to go through this process anyway so there was no avoidance, said Sam Phillips, assistant secretary of DEQ.
However, when EPA received the objection petitions from the grain exporter and then from several environmental groups, EPA should have made a decision on whether to grant or deny those petitions. If the petitions were granted, Phillips said, EPA needed to point out where the permits violated the Clean Air Act. Instead, EPA asked for more information from DEQ and has not pointed out any deficiencies in the permits.
“That’s not what the petition is for,” Phillips said.
EPA public relations staffer Jennah Durant said the agency wouldn’t be able to comment on the permits or the issues raised by DEQ.
Last year, DEQ asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review EPA’s objection to air permits that were issued to Nucor, to vacate EPA’s objection and to issue a ruling listing how the EPA’s objection was “improper for a variety of reasons.”
The court issued a decision on Sept. 17 that essentially said the court couldn’t make a decision because EPA hadn’t made a decision on whether the permits should be issued or denied.
DEQ now has 30 days in which to make a decision on the next step. DEQ can either ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give the issue a rehearing, take the issue to district court or take it to the U.S. Supreme Court, Phillips said.
“The reason they’re (EPA) using this approach is because no one has challenged them on it,” Phillips said. “One of these two courts will have to stop EPA from using this tactic.”