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Great Lakes Article:

State approves Oregon coke plant
But EPA lowers cap on mercury emissions

By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
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 on children.

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, she said.

"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 EPA said.

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