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Louisiana Issues Nation's First GHG Permits, but Questions Linger

The EPA found major deficiencies with the state-issued permits, leaving open questions over who is ultimately in charge

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 22, 2011
Industry near New Orleans, Louisiana

A pair of iron plants in Louisiana have become the first facilities in the nation to get permits for their greenhouse gas emissions, and it's leaving local environmentalists holding their breath as state and federal jurisdictional issues get worked out.

The local groups say they are not convinced the state-issued permits are in compliance with the Obama administration's new climate rules, and want clarity soon in a process they say has been hampered by confusion.

Officials at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), however, chalk up any ambiguity to the fact that they're learning as they go along.

"With other pollutants, LDEQ generally has a lot of data it can look to and see what emission rates are achievable and what types of devices work," said Bryan Johnston, administrator of the LDEQ air permits division. "Greenhouse gas add-on control technology is essentially non-existent."

On January 31, the LDEQ issued greenhouse gas permits to steel giant Nucor Corporation for two plants in the town of St. James Parish, 40 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. The permits were the first to include U.S. EPA "tailoring" rules to reign in heat-trapping gases, which kicked in on Jan. 2.

But the regional EPA office found major deficiencies with the permits, and still has yet to formally approve or reject them, leaving questions over who is ultimately in charge.

Green groups such as the Sierra Club and Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who are worried over the plants' pollution footprint, say they may intervene.

"The EPA has not delivered an official response on [Nucor], so we are looking at drafting an appeal" before a May 3 deadline, said Jordan Macha, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club Delta Chapter, referring to the last day the regional EPA can be petitioned over the Nucor permits.

Macha expressed concern over the precedent that could be established for future greenhouse gas permits.

"We are definitely in support of the EPA and the greenhouse gas rules that they passed, and part of our engagement in this permitting process ... is to ensure that whatever rules EPA has actually hold up," she told SolveClimate News.

Nucor Trims Carbon Footprint of Facilities

The controversial EPA climate rules require big carbon emitters to get Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V Operating permits to curb emissions at new and modified facilities through cost-effective Best Available Control Technology, or BACT.

Under the program, part of the Clean Air Act, EPA gives state agencies guidance and acts a resource, but specific permitting decisions are in states' hands — though EPA can enforce compliance.

The EPA "tailored" the rules last May to include only power plants, refineries and large industrial facilities with greenhouse gas emissions that exceed 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.

Together, these facilities account for nearly 70 percent of the nation's global warming pollution from stationary sources. Small emitters like farms and manufacturers are exempt from adding pollution-control technologies.

In Nucor's case, it initially won permits last summer for a single 500-megawatt coal-fired pig iron plant. But community organizations hotly contested the plant, saying its enormous 9 million tons of annual CO2 emissions would only aggravate the environmental and health problems in an industry-intensive area known as "cancer alley."

A 500-megawatt coal plant, by contrast, releases roughly 3 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Nucor iron facilities

In this state we are on one hand selling the state as a tourist attraction while at the same time we are killing the state's environment. Last summer we had an oil spill that just about killed our seafood industry yet we are crying to have the moratorium on deep water drilling lifted.  The Nucor plant joins the 140 plants polluting  the south east section of the state.  These plants are killing thousands each year from cancer while all we (the governor and others) can think about is the jobs these plants are creating.  I know Louisiana is at the bottom in eduction but I know that we could think of other ways to create jobs.  We have become the dumping ground for these plants because we provide them tax cuts and lenient permits for greenhouse emissions.

What a shame we think so little of this beautiful area  of t he state and its people.

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