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A win for the people. A win for activism. But expansion is not totally off the table.

Nucor Corp. has informed Louisiana environmental officials that it is abandoning plans for a $120 million expansion of its Convent steel manufacturing complex and will continue delaying a decision on another expansion there. Notice that the company won’t be building an iron pellet reprocessing plant came when it asked the Department of Environmental Quality for a revised air emissions permit on July 27, a request that was not posted on the agency’s public document website until this week. Separately, the company has agreed to pay $89,760 to the state to help settle charges that the plant released caustic sulfuric acid mist and highly flammable hydrogen sulfide in violation of federal and state law since it began operations in 2013. But Nucor said it made its decision to shelve the pelletizer plant before it submitted a plan to reduce emissions and before environmental groups objected to the settlement. “This was solely a business decision based purely on market conditions,” company spokesperson Katherine Miller said Thursday.

Market conditions or the opposition they faced? You tell me.

The St. James Parish-based environmental group Inclusive Louisiana and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, had challenged the illegal emissions settlement as too small, considering the length of time that the toxic gases were allowed to be released. But both groups also praised Nucor’s decision not to proceed with the expansions. “For years I’ve been told Nucor isn’t polluting and to look elsewhere,” said Myrtle Felton, an Inclusive leader who lives near the complex. “But now we’ve found out that for six years Nucor has been emitting harmful sulfuric acid that has been affecting our health and our property. What’s more, they don’t know how they’re going to stop it. So why are they even operating, let alone making a plan to expand?” “The withdrawal of the proposed pelletizer project is both a positive step for the local residents and an opportunity for both DEQ and the community to take a hard look at Nucor’s ongoing permit violations,” said Lauren Godshall, an attorney with the Tulane law clinic.

Nucor want to pollute more. Is this the cost they are forcing on the residents – we won’t expand but our pollution will continue.

In its revised permit request, Nucor wants to be allowed to increase emissions of several toxic chemicals from levels allowed in its original 2013 permit. They include increasing sulfur dioxide by 7.21 tons per year, volatile organic carbon compounds by almost 19 tons per year and carbon equivalent greenhouse gases by 799,360 tons per year. Several substances would see significant reductions, including 10-micrometer and 2.5-micrometer sizes of particulate matter, each of which would be reduced by more than 50 tons per year; and nitrogen oxides, which would be reduced by almost 55 tons per year. “We will continue to work on improving our operations and building relationships with community members who have concerns about responsible industry in the area,” Miller said. “We want to keep working with our neighbors to make a positive impact in the community where we live and work.”

The company also does not take expansion off the table but that threat remains.

The company’s request asks the state to rescind permits already issued for a second direct reduced iron manufacturing plant, which was never built. “Withdrawal of these units will reduce the facility’s permitted potential to emit,” the request said. But the company also made clear that it might request future expansions at the Convent site. “Forecasting future demand is difficult and depends on factors in the interrelated global markets for iron, steel and steel products beyond Nucor’s or even the United States’ control,” the company said. “For example, climate change mitigation strategies may increase demand for [direct reduced iron] product, which is a less carbon-intensive source of iron when produced with natural gas.” The application said Nucor continues to study other business opportunities in the steelmaking industry, “given the Convent facility’s favorable location along the Mississippi River.”

This is every environmental win. It is not a total win but only one in a succession of suits. The climate emergency may be a strong ally though as what Nucor wants to do is increase greenhouse gasses which the Governor wants to cut.

Nucor bails on expansion
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