Shintech Inc.'s attempt to build a major PVC plant in Convent, La., was further delayed Aug. 31.
A state district judge ordered a hearing to determine if state officials in charge of approving air permits for the proposed plant were biased in favor of Shintech.
Three local environmental groups made the bias claim against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. LDEQ issued permits to Houston-based Shintech last year, but later withdrew them after the Environmental Protection Agency objected for environmental and health-related reasons.
No date has been set for the bias hearing, which must be completed before LDEQ or another state agency can reissue the permits.
Shintech controller Dick Mason said he was ``happy to let the legal process play itself out,'' but he pointed out LDEQ officials reviewed Shintech's air-permit requests for 10 months before approving them. The state's typical air-permit review process takes only six months, according to Mason.
In her ruling, Judge Kay Bates pointed out several reasons for the bias hearing, including that LDEQ assistant secretary Gus Von Bodungen instructed his staff not to meet with Shintech opponents.
Von Bodungen admitted that he considers the opposition groups' position to be ``adversarial'' to that of the LDEQ, according to the ruling.
Von Bodungen's actions, as well as several pro-Shintech public statements made by Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, provided adequate grounds for the bias hearing, according to Beth Teel, a lawyer with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. The clinic is representing Shintech opponents.
``We were very disturbed from the beginning that the governor had gone on record numerous times attacking the clinic and the citizens groups as if they had no legal interest in the possibility of billions and billions of pounds of more pollution coming into their community,'' Teel said in a phone interview from Baton Rouge.
Foster has supported the proposed plant, which would produce 1.1 billion pounds of PVC annually, because of the 165 permanent jobs and tax revenue the plant will bring to the state.
Opponents claim the plant's emissions will be unsafe and have accused Shintech of environmental racism because of the site's proximity to a minority-occupied federal housing project.
Shintech, North America's largest PVC resin maker, maintains it selected the Convent site because of its deep-water access and not because of the area's demographics. The company also has said third-party testing has proved the proposed plant's emission levels to be safe.
Officials at LDEQ could not be reached for comment on the pending hearing.