Shintech Inc.'s plan to build a PVC plant in Convent, La., ran into another roadblock Sept. 10 when the Environmental Protection Agency objected to air permits the company had been issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
EPA's decision came two days after LDEQ had announced it would reopen the air permits, which had been challenged by area residents who oppose the plant for health and safety reasons.
``We have determined ... that the correction of the permit is necessary to protect community health and the environment,'' EPA Administrator Carol Browner wrote in the Sept. 10 ruling.
J. Dale Givens , LDEQ secretary, said most of the concerns raised in an EPA order surrounding the air permits were technical items that were not connected to the department's review of the proposed plant's emission levels.
``We've had an ongoing discussion with [EPA officials] about what to do to address concerns that we knew were relatively minor,'' Givens said in a Sept. 11 telephone interview from Baton Rouge.
``So in the spirit of cooperation ... we said, `Let's take a look at it and see.'''
Most of EPA's objections seem to fit Givens' interpretation. However, others appear to be more basic, such as a section of the permit which EPA believes would allow Shintech to apply for a permit modification if emissions exceed set levels, instead of taking steps to bring the plant into compliance.
Area environmental groups, including the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, had filed petitions with EPA objecting to the proposed plant because of its emission levels and its proximity to a government housing project that is primarily minority-occupied. The latter challenge falls under EPA's environmental justice area.
Shintech officials, who could not be reached for comment, have maintained the proposed plant's emissions levels are within state limits and that the demographic makeup of the community had nothing to do with their decision to locate in the area.
The EPA's Office of Civil Rights will continue to review the environmental justice claim. That review could last until January.
Reviewing the air permits, including scheduling a public hearing on the matter, will take 3-5 months, according to Givens. That review may include a dialogue on the environmental justice question.
The review most likely will prevent Shintech from breaking ground this year on the 2,400 acre riverfront parcel, which the firm still has an option to buy.
The proposed plant would cost $700 million to build and would create 165 permanent jobs. It would also have annual capacity of 1.1 billion pounds of PVC, 1.1 billion pounds of vinyl chloride monomer, 1.1 billion pounds of caustic soda and 990 million pounds of chlorine.
Givens added the EPA objection was a result of new Clean Air Act regulations adopted in October 1996 that require emissions to be tested before operating permits are issued.
``Shintech has done everything the state has asked in the permit process and review,'' Givens said. ``But when any new program gets started, a conditional review can come up, so from that standpoint it's unfair to Shintech.''
Lisa Lavie, a lawyer representing the plant's opponents, said she ``was pleased the EPA objected to the permits and looked into the matter in such detail.'' But she added she was disappointed EPA did not take swifter action on the environmental justice complaint.
``Hopefully the LDEQ will take the [environmental justice] process seriously and not treat it the way they did before, when all they did was drum up African-American support for the plant,'' Lavie said in a Sept. 11 interview from New Orleans. ``That's not dealing with environmental justice at all.''
Lavie placed much of the blame in the case on LDEQ's shoulders. An independent consulting firm recently concluded that LDEQ's high number of management layers has created a credibility gap with the public, according to a report in the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper.
``Everybody has accused my clients of causing the delay, but if the LDEQ had taken the time to review the permits and not fast-tracked everything, Shintech wouldn't be in the position it's in now,'' Lavie said.