State approves Oregon coke plant
But EPA lowers cap on mercury emissions
By Tom Henry
Published June 15, 2004
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency yesterday issued
a construction permit for the FDS Coke Plant in Oregon.
But it attached conditions that left supporters and opponents
unable to claim a clear victory.
Under pressure from the U.S. EPA, the Michigan Department
of Environmental Quality, the Ontario Ministry of the
Environment, and Environment Canada, the Ohio EPA set
the ceiling for mercury emissions at a fraction of what
it would have been allowed under the draft permit.
The FDS Coke Plant wanted to release up to 680 pounds
of mercury a year, but the Ohio EPA capped it at 36 pounds.
The state agency also reduced the cumulative threshold
for major pollutants, including lead and carbon monoxide
by 1 million pounds a year to 7 million pounds.
The chief reduction was sulfur dioxide, the pollutant
associated with acid rain.
The permit allows 2.1 million pounds of sulfur dioxide
to be discharged a year. But it kept the level of smog-forming
nitrogen oxide emissions at 2.1 million pounds.
By far the most contentious debate was over mercury,
responsible for most of the Great Lakes fish consumption
advisories because of its toxicity and neurological effect
Mercury is one of seven pollutants targeted for reduction
from the Great Lakes in 1988 under a multistate agreement
put together by the Council of Great Lakes Governors.
The Ohio EPA's strict conditions elicited a measured
response from U.S. Coking Group LLC, which plans to spend
$350 million on the project. The plant is expected to
generate 150 jobs.
In a statement, the company said it "would be premature
to comment on [the Ohio EPA's
decision] until we have had an opportunity to review
the permit and its conditions in their entirety."
"We will take a look at it," said John Hull,
president of Hull & Associates, Inc., of Toledo, the
project's lead consultant.
One of the project's biggest boosters, Oregon Mayor Marge
Brown, expressed satisfaction.
"We're very excited now that we have something to
work toward," she said.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which obtained
a $500,000 loan from Lucas County to facilitate the project,
said little about the OEPA conditions.
"That's what the company's going to have to look
at and determine if it's in the parameters they can operate,"
Port Authority spokesman Brian Schwartz said.
Alex Sagady, a self-employed environmental consultant
from Michigan who has assisted the Sierra Club and other
activists in their permit challenge, declined to claim
victory in the Ohio EPA's decision to cap mercury emission
at 36 pounds a year.
Ohio EPA Director Chris Jones issued a statement lauding
the permit as the most restrictive his agency has "ever
issued for this kind of a facility."
It has issued only one comparable permit, to a coke plant
authorized for construction near Portsmouth. Two other
coke plants in the United States, in Indiana and Virginia,
use similar technology.
Mr. Jones said the Ohio EPA is requiring a tighter mercury
threshold "because we are concerned about the impact
on Lake Erie and on children."
On Friday, Environment Canada - Canada's U.S. EPA equivalent
- came out in opposition to the coke plant because of
its anticipated pollution drifts.
The objection followed a five-way conference call that
included Environment Canada, the Ohio EPA, the Ontario
Ministry of the Environment, the U.S. EPA, and the Michigan
DEQ. Michigan raised its objections because of anticipated
pollution drifts to Monroe County and other parts of Michigan.
Dina Pierce, Ohio EPA spokesman, said the state arrived
at 36 pounds of mercury by considering how much of that
pollutant would be discharged by a coal-fired power plant
equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
A coke plant, which produces an ingredient for steel,
is different from a coal electricity generating station,
but the agency saw enough similarities to make the comparison,
"But that's basically how it was calculated. We
think it's achievable," she said.
U.S. Coking Group will not be allowed uncontrolled pollutant
venting, unless it can demonstrate the need to do so because
of an emergency. The definition of an emergency was unclear.
The applicant had sought 83 days to bypass pollution
control equipment during routine maintenance, the Ohio