The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed its decision on a request to withdraw air permits issued to PVC maker Shintech Inc. for a proposed Louisiana plant.
The original July 22 decision date was pushed back to Aug. 4 to allow the agency more time to look at the issue, according to David Bary, spokesman for EPA's Dallas office.
Bary said no air permits have been revoked in the four years since EPA established the appeals process. He was unsure how many times such permits had been challenged, but said the Shintech case has gone further into the review process than any other case.
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network and Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed petitions with EPA in late May requesting the withdrawal of permits Houston-based Shintech had been granted to construct a 1.1 billion-pound-per-year PVC plant on a riverfront parcel in Convent, La.
Opponents claim the plant would violate the Clean Air Act, which holds manufacturers liable for environmental impact. Shintech officials have countered that the proposed emissions have been tested safely by independent toxicologists.
State officials had issued the permits after deciding the proposed plant's emission levels for chloralkyline, vinyl chloride monomer and finished PVC were within state limits.
Shintech's opponents also have leveled claims of environmental racism against Shintech because of the proposed site's proximity to a government housing project that is primarily minority-occupied.
Bary said opponents of the plant agreed to the two-week delay when they met with EPA officials in Washington in mid-July.
``When there are a number of concerns such as this, we want to make sure we have time to do a complete review of the petition,'' Bary said. ``The review consists of going over concerns that the plant will have a disproportionate impact on a low-income minority community as well as looking at the technical aspects of the air permits.''
Shintech controller Richard Mason said he was not surprised that EPA delayed its decision, particularly in light of the number of petitions and filings related to the project.
Mason added Shintech has filed responses with EPA defending its position in regard to the case.
``Louisiana's air permit requirements are tougher than those we've had to meet in Texas,'' Mason said in a July 23 interview from his Houston office. ``These are very tough, stringent requirements we've had to meet and we're confident any court or governing body will see that we've done so.''
Lisa Lavie, a lawyer with the law clinic, said her clients are taking a wait-and-see attitude with the delay.
``We never anticipated getting any relief from state or local officials, since they made it clear from the start they wanted Shintech to be here,'' Lavie said in a July 23 telephone interview from New Orleans. ``We kind of knew this would end up with the EPA.''
Lavie added the Shintech case ``is forcing the EPA to look at environmental justice issues'' as outlined in President Clinton's 1994 executive order on the issue.