- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

VACHERIE, La. (AP) - Two environmental groups are challenging the issuance of an air operating permit to China-based company planning a methanol manufacturing facility along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish.

The groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to block the permit issued in May for the first phase of Yuhuang Chemical’s proposed $1.85 billion methanol complex.

State and company officials have said the project that represents the first major foreign direct investment by a Chinese company in Louisiana. It will provide 350 to 400 permanent jobs.

The Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1LWQzYa ) the Sierra Club and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network are arguing to the EPA that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality wrongly concluded the plant’s air emissions were low enough that Yuhuang could avoid a separate permitting process.

The prevention of significant deterioration process cited by the two groups requires, among other things, a more-intensive air modeling to assess regional impact and the use of the stiffest pollution controls.

Corinne Van Dalen, attorney for the two groups and an instructor for the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, wrote to EPA that the air permit is illegal because of its emissions and PSD shortcomings.

In support of the claims about the permit, the environmental groups claim they are unable to verify Yuhuang’s unusually low emissions figures because they couldn’t obtain a spreadsheet from LDEQ that the permit application cites as a source.

The document contains underlying technical data that sheds light on how Yuhuang expects to achieve emissions low enough to avoid thresholds that would make it a “major source” and trigger the PSD requirements, Van Dalen said.

State and Yuhuang officials said LDEQ was not supplied the spreadsheet either, because it contains proprietary business information from one of Yuhuang’s technical suppliers, Air Liquide.

“So, you know, it’s just blind faith,” Van Dalen said.

LDEQ officials say the plant has monitoring and pollution controls above what is required and disputed Van Dalen’s charge. They contend the underlying data were not legally required nor even needed to review the plant’s permit but were certified as true by a responsible company official and a professional engineer.

Bryan Johnston, senior environmental scientist for DEQ’s Air Permits Division, added that to suggest the numbers may have been adjusted “just so the plant is minor source under PSD” is a stretch.

“That’s kind of reaching out there,” he said.

He said Yuhuang would face substantial consequences, including a retroactive PSD review, penalties and additional pollution controls, if it did adjust the emissions numbers.

The facility is earmarked for 1,100 acres of agricultural land along the west bank of the Mississippi River. Work is expected to start in late summer or early fall.

Charles Goebel, Yuhuang plant manager, said the company believes the permit will hold up to further review.

“We remain confident in that permit that we worked with LDEQ on and that LDEQ issued for us. We believe it’s a technically sound permit,” Goebel said.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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