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Nucor Working To Block Big River Steel Air Permit

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 1:22pm
Chuck Bartels, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- The start of construction for a $1.1 billion steel mill in northeast Arkansas is being delayed because a competing steel mill is trying to block the new company from receiving its environmental permit.

After the Big River Steel mill was announced in January, Nucor Steel asked legislators to vote against providing $125 million in financing, which wound up passing easily.

Now Nucor has filed lengthy objections with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Construction in Osceola was to have begun this year but Arkansas Economic Development Commission spokesman Joe Holmes said Monday that work is now expected to start next year.

"Things won't be finalized until this issue is worked through which puts the groundbreaking sometime in the first quarter," Holmes said in an email.

AEDC Director Grant Tennille said earlier that lenders in Germany won't put up their money until the plant has a green light on the environmental permit. The agency says the financial backers are still on board.

Nucor operates a steel mill in Blytheville and the company has expressed concern that Big River will poach employees, drive up labor costs and compete for customers. Blytheville and Osceola are both in Mississippi County.

Nucor claims that the ADEQ didn't have all the information it needed from Big River when it agreed to issue a draft air quality permit.

"Consequently, the draft permit should be withdrawn in order to give ADEQ sufficient time to analyze the information submitted by (Big River Steel) in support of its application," Nucor's filing with ADEQ states.

The company also claims the ADEQ "is subject to bias" because the state has a financial stake in the mill and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System is also an investor.

Nucor also argues that regulators didn't take into account pollution that will be generated by suppliers to the plant that are expected to open.

In an emailed statement, Nucor said Mississippi County now meets EPA air standards for particulate matter. The company said that status "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," the company said.

Nucor's appeal will have to go before the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. If the panel turns away Nucor's request to further delay the permit the company would still have the option of filing a lawsuit.

When the mill was announced in January, organizers said it will employ 525 people earning an average of $75,000 per year and create 2,000 construction jobs.

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