Staff photo by Allison Potter
Supporters, right, and opponents, left, of Carolina Cement Company gather on opposite sides of the Kenan Auditorium entrance prior to a public hearing called by the North Carolina Division of Air Quality on Monday, Aug. 5 at Kenan Auditorium.
Despite opposition, a controversial permit modification to raise the limits on certain types of particulate pollution was approved for Titan Cement’s proposed Castle Hayne plant on Friday, Aug. 30.
The decision comes less than a month after the N.C. Division of Air Quality held an Aug. 5 public hearing, attended by more than 500 citizens, to address the requested change to the controversial air permit. It also grants the company an 18-month extension for the permit.
Originally issued in February 2011, Titan’s air permit was contingent on the company beginning construction on the plant within 18 months of issuance. However, company officials stated in the application — received by the division on April 9 of this year — that ongoing litigation from local and regional environmental groups precluded the company from starting construction.
“Because the result of the contested case hearing is uncertain, and because finalizing designs for the Facility is complex and involves costs in the millions of dollars, it has been infeasible for Carolinas Cement to commit to final designs for the Facility and commence construction,” the application stated.
However, local environmental organizations including the N.C. Coastal Federation, the N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club and Cape Fear River Watch pointed to a change to the limits of a class of criteria pollutants known as particulate matter (PM) as the real issue in Titan’s application. Those groups have cited studies by medical groups and government agencies to argue that the increases pose an unacceptable risk to public health.
“We were hoping that the DAQ would show some more concern for the citizens of this region, their health and their economic future,” said Mike Giles, a coastal advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation in an Aug. 30 interview. Giles added that the permit will allow Titan to increase New Hanover County’s total fine particulate emissions by more than 67 percent, “whether Titan says they’re going to emit it or not.”
Titan’s latest application requested an increase in the maximum emissions of “coarse” PM of 10.4 tons per year, and an increase in the maximum levels of “fine” PM of 22.3 tons per year, compared with the company’s 2011 air permit.
An Aug. 29 press release attributed to the plant’s general manager, Bob Odom, alleges that “EPA erred in setting its 2010 emission limits and monitoring system for PM … [which] could not reliably measure PM emissions at such low levels. In December 2012, EPA amended its PM standards and monitoring methodology to correct this error.”
Titan spokespeople have maintained that the modification to the permitted particulate levels was made to reflect those changes in the federal rules. They have also repeated that despite the increase in permitted PM levels, actual emissions from the plant would not change.
However, Odom said in an Aug. 5 interview that the pollution control equipment that will be used by the plant has yet to be finalized.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea but until we have the air permit if we have to tweak something we have to tweak something,” Odom said.
Geoff Gisler, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center who is representing environmental groups suing the DAQ over the current air permit, said the federal changes were based on a “worse-performing bag filter,” a piece of technology which captures pollution, including PM.
“The change at the federal level was motivated by a change in the monitoring,” Gisler said in a telephone interview on Aug. 6. “As part of that, they revised this formula and allowed a more permissive bag filter outlet concentration.”
Gisler said there was no disputing that the bag filter in the company’s previously approved permit would capture more fine particulate matter than the filter specified in its latest application.
Also expected soon is an official determination of whether Titan’s air permit will be upheld by a state administrative law judge, who heard motions for summary judgment on Aug. 7. Noel Talley, speaking on behalf of the state attorney general’s office in an Aug. 30 interview, confirmed that the judge had granted the state’s motion to uphold the permit in court, but had not yet submitted a written order.