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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

Mar 22, 2011
Industry near New Orleans, Louisiana

By the end of 2010, Nucor had reduced the size of its proposed facility and applied again for operating permits for a direct reduced iron (DRI) facility, which uses natural gas, and a modified pig iron plant — the first two steps in a five-phase, $3.4 billion investment in the works for the next decade.

A Nucor spokesperson did not return repeated phone and e-mail requests seeking comment.

The project has received strong support from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who called the Nucor facilities an "economic win" that could create up to 1,250 direct jobs for Louisianans.

Agency Issues GHG Permits Anyway

On Jan. 7,  EPA's Region 6 office sent the LDEQ an 11-page letter expressing its many concerns with the greenhouse gas permits, but the state agency went ahead and issued them weeks later.

The EPA office declined to be interviewed for this story, offering only the agency's March 4 comments to LDEQ. That document followed a 45-day review period of the permits and commends Nucor's "proactive approach to reduce both greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants."

But it also points out that BACT measures to determine how much CO2 could be released from the facility were not "practically enforceable" as written, and that the modeling used to determine potential air pollution of the plants was not comprehensive.

The EPA also questions why the facilities are permitted as individual plants, as opposed to one collective steelmaking plant. "If the 'projects' should have been aggregated, then several additional environmental analyses and requirements would have needed to be performed," the March letter said.

Johnston of LDEQ told SolveClimate News that the Nucor permitting process is an ongoing learning experience for both the department and the EPA.

Nucor, for instance, had to rule out the possibility of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies for BACT because its geographical location doesn't allow for it. Under the tailoring rule, all facilities must consider CCS to control pollution.

In addition to limited BACT options, "a lot of actual emissions data is hard to come by," Johnston explained. "The more that permitting authorities make determinations, the more data becomes available in the permitting process.

"I think we are now better prepared for the questions that the EPA may ask and we are better equipped to ask PSD applicants on GHG emissions."

Johnston said the LDEQ would respond to the EPA's concerns by the end of March and is "treating greenhouse gases as any other PSD pollutant."

Construction on Hold to Resolve Concerns

The $750-million DRI plant would be the first of its kind in the U.S. to convert natural gas and iron ore pellets into raw materials, which the pig iron plant will use along with recycled scrap materials for making steel products.

The LDEQ estimates that the DRI plant will emit 3.4 million tons of CO2 per year. Figures for the pig iron plant have yet to be updated for the modified facility, but are expected to surpass the DRI plant due to the coal-fired blast furnace.

Industrial CO2 emissions in 2009 contributed 2 percent to total U.S. CO2 emissions. Of that 2 percent, about 35 percent came from iron and steel production that year, according to the EPA.

Construction of the DRI facility has already begun, although a stay has been placed on the pig iron facility permit — at Nucor's request — to resolve concerns about the high levels of greenhouse gas and air pollutants the plant is expected to produce.

Not Entirely Convinced Permits Will Work

Sierra Club's Macha said that local environmental groups remain skeptical that EPA's comments and the back-and-forth between the agencies will result in actual enforcement of the tailoring rule's GHG regulations.

She said that a definitive approval of amended permits — or a rejection due to their inconsistencies — could help set the standard for future air quality permits in Louisiana's industrial sector.

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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