Tuesday, March 1, 2016
State Turns Down US Nitrogen Air Permit Hearing Request
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and subsequent guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a state agency has turned down a request for a public hearing on an amended air permit from U.S. Nitrogen.
In a letter to Park Overall, an Afton resident who had requested a hearing, an official of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the court and EPA actions moved the US Nitrogen request to a lower category. As a result, TDEC official James P. Johnston wrote, a hearing will not be held.
Johnston said the federal action, coupled with subsequent changes at the state level, re-categorized the US Nitrogen request from a major to a minor pollution source category.
He said that under the court ruling, sources could not be categorized as major sources of pollutants solely because of the emission of greenhouse gases.
Overall had requested a hearing citing the US Nitrogen request to triple the amount of nitrous oxides that will be allowed under the permit.
Overall expressed anger and outrage with the decision to deny a public hearing and noted that her request was based on the findings of an expert on air pollution issues.
"It is a desperate day in this state when all the regulatory agencies which we depend upon to protect the public health and safety pass the buck," she said.
"Well the buck stops here," she added, adding that she will continue efforts to challenge the permit and the project.
The US Nitrogen plant in Midway Greene County is set to begin operation later this year. It will produce tons of ammonium nitrate per day which will be shipped to another location for the production of explosives.
Johnston wrote that the court ruling "confirmed that a source cannot become a major source solely because of its emission of greenhouse gases. Because US Nitrogen was only considered a major source due to the greenhouse gases, the courts ruling eliminated US Nitrogen from being considered a major source."
As for the nitrous oxide emissions, Johnson said that modeling indicated the facility would still be in compliance with federal standards even with the threefold increase in emissions.
In a separate permit issue, several local residents have petitioned TDEC to hold a public hearing on the renewal of a permit allowing US Nitrogen to draw and discharge millions of gallons of water per day from the Nolichucky River.
TDEC already has issued notice that it intends to approve that permit.
Area residents Donahue Bible, Deborah Bahr and Ann Calfee have asked TDEC to hold a hearing before final action on that permit.
Calfee, in her letter, said "allowing a corporation to dump straight into 'exceptional waters' is unforgivable."
TDEC has responded acknowledging the letters but has not stated whether a hearing will be held.