Nucor Challenge To Big River Steel Air Permit Will Delay Superproject

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 207 views 

A challenge to Big River Steel’s air quality permit by Nucor Steel will delay or could trip up the $1.1 billion superproject planned for northeast Arkansas, but state officials expressed confidence that the steel mill will go forward.

Charlotte-based Nucor has challenged the ADEQ-approved permit contending that the application process is marred with incorrect and inadequate data, lack of proper regulatory review, and concerns that air quality standards will be compromised by the project and potential ancillary businesses it may bring to Mississippi County.

Nucor, which has two facilities in Mississippi County near the planned location of Big River Steel, outlined its objections in a 697-page filing.

“As of June 24, 2013, modeling for the facility did not pass regulatory requirements,” the permit objection states. “ADEQ did not have, and could not have had, sufficient time to adequately analyze the [a]pplication and issue the Draft Permit. Release of the public notice was premature, and should have waited until the technical review was complete. Consequently, the Draft Permit should be withdrawn in order to give ADEQ sufficient time to analyze the information.”

Other notes from Nucor’s objection to the permit include:

  • ADEQ’s judgment on the BRS [Big River Steel] permit is subject to bias due to the direct financial investment of an agency of the State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System, in the BRS project.
  • BRS has not finalized the design and placement of all emission sources.
  • The history of heavy manufacturing is that additional support facilities and customer/supplier facilities likely will be built in proximity to BRS. Nucor says this has not been properly factored into potential air quality modeling.
  • The objection also cites additional instances of alleged improper modeling, failure to adhere to EPA guidelines in assumptions, and even typos in the application.

UPDATE:  Katherine Miller, communications manager with Nucor Corp., provided Talk Business with the following response:

“Currently, Mississippi County is in compliance with EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter. The NAAQS must be preserved in our region and failure to do so will jeopardize future growth and expansion of existing industries in Mississippi County and put its citizens under new and unnecessary health risks. Proper review of emission estimates, correcting modeling deficiencies and assumptions and performing pre-construction air monitoring will give the public the tools needed to develop an informed decision on the impacts this project will have on Mississippi County.”

Grant Tennille, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, says the air permit challenge will add at least another 120 days to the start of Big River Steel, which was expecting to break ground before the end of the year.

“Right now it’s stopping the groundbreaking from taking place,” Tennille said on Sunday’s edition of Talk Business. “It’s a thing they’ve got to work through. We’ve got enormous confidence in the job that Teresa Marks and her staff did at ADEQ in issuing the proper permit with all of the right back-up, but it’s a competitive issue.”

He expects a first quarter 2014 groundbreaking at this juncture.

Currently, a PC&E administrative law judge will review the permit challenge. Whether to overturn or not overturn the ADEQ decision will eventually be left up to a regulatory panel known as the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is controlled by appointees of Gov. Mike Beebe. If the PC&E board upholds the permit, Nucor could pursue a legal appeal through the court system.

Tennille said the threat of Nucor’s challenge has not spooked Big River Steel’s investors or state and local support of the superproject.

“We have been in close communication with all of the financiers. Everybody is still committed to this project, the state’s still committed to this project, Entergy is committed, the railroad is committed, the folks in Mississippi County and Osceola are committed,” Tennille said.

Big River Steel was announced in January 2013. The $1.1 billion superproject is an advanced manufacturing, state-of-the-art production plant and will produce steel for the automotive, oil and gas, and electrical energy industries.

Arkansas lawmakers approved a $125 million bond package under the auspices of Amendment 82, the state’s superproject amendment, to secure the location would be built in Mississippi County. State and local officials also devoted millions of dollars in additional incentives to land the superproject.

Big River Steel was formed by long-time steel executive and entrepreneur John Correnti and a team of industrial and financial investors. Correnti once headed Nucor Steel and its two steel mills also located in Mississippi County. He has nearly 40 years of experience in the steel industry.

The project, which was scheduled to come online in late 2015, is expected to create 525 direct jobs in the steel industry, hundreds more through the supplier chain, and up to 2,000 construction jobs during the 18-20 month building process.

Nucor challenged the steel mill from the get-go. During the Arkansas General Assembly’s consideration of the bond package, Nucor lobbied legislators to vote against the proposal claiming it would be disruptive to the workforce, potentially harm a long-standing existing business in the region, and present environmental challenges for the state.