The Environmental Protection Agency delayed approval of a state plan to ensure sulfur emissions in the parish of St. Bernard remain below federal air quality standards to allow Rain CII Carbon to Chalmette to perform tests that will confirm that it can properly monitor emissions from part of its manufacturing process.
Rain’s request for more time was supported by a letter to the EPA from US Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., On behalf of a business executive who was cited as one of the reasons for the delay in the EPA Federal Register notice. State Department of Environmental Quality also asked for the deadline.
Rain takes a hard material called “green coke” that remains when crude oil is refined into liquid products, and treats it with heat to create calcined rock-like coke, a high carbon fuel used in the manufacture of aluminum.
The intense heat used to treat the petroleum material, reaching 4000 degrees during part of the process, can also release sulfur dioxide as a by-product, which must then be captured and destroyed or collected.
The company has been cited by DEQ for sulfur dioxide and other emissions from its facility in the past, with its emissions sometimes being accused of triggering air pollution warnings in the parish.
Sulfur dioxide levels rose just after the restart of the Saint-Bernard parish industrial plant
Rain made improvements to its production process starting in 2013 that significantly reduced emissions, state officials say.
But until 2017, the combined sulfur dioxide emissions from Rain and several refineries and other St. Bernard facilities did not meet the EPA’s national ambient air quality standard, which does not allow no more than 75 parts per billion of sulfur dioxide in the air in a single period. period of one hour, this average being maintained for three years.
Under federal law, DEQ is required to develop a “state implementation plan” outlining the actions that individual facilities in the parish and region must take to ensure that emission levels remain. below this federal standard.
As part of this process, on November 8, 2017, DEQ ordered Rain to enter into a consent agreement requiring the company to adopt a plan to change its manufacturing processes to control sulfur dioxide levels. The state sent the company an updated consent agreement on February 2, 2018, which included even more restrictive limits that had to be met within 90 days.
On April 20, 2018, the EPA published a notice in the Federal Register recommending approval of this agreement between DEQ and Rain as part of the state’s DEQ implementation plan.
However, Rain had problems with one provision of the agreement: proving that the heating process used to make the coke was working properly to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by measuring the flow of extremely hot material through the “pile.”
The problem was that Rain CII didn’t figure out how to monitor the flow, because traditional meters that monitor temperatures and material flow would simply melt in the intense heat of the chimney, said Vivian Aucoin, environmental manager and science for DEQ’s air planning department.
The company has finally found a way to use a laser monitoring system, but has yet to complete testing to ensure that it accurately measures the flow of material through the pile. These tests should be carried out in the coming weeks.
In a letter dated April 24, 2018, to EPA Acting Associate Administrator for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations on behalf of Rain’s Managing Director Gerald Sweeney, Cassidy explained where Rain was in this process and relayed Rain’s request to withdraw approval from the implementation plan. as premature.
“Our office regularly assists Louisians when they need help from federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration, Social Security Office or the EPA,” a spokesperson for Cassidy said Friday. “In this case, our office provided the EPA with a summary of the problem with the understanding that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality was working with the constituent to change the compliance schedule. Our office did not advocate for the EPA to act in a certain way, only that they consider the matter as requested by the constituent. “
DEQ supported Rain’s request in its own letter to the EPA, which led to Friday’s delay notice.
Aucoin said on Friday that flow monitoring is being used in the modeling required by the EPA to ensure the company will continue to meet its sulfur dioxide reduction commitment, but that other local air monitoring conducted by the EPA. the state and the company are showing that it is already doing it. .
This does not mean, however, that the company is completely out of regulatory timber.
On January 10, Rain officials signed a settlement agreement with DEQ that requires the company to pay the state $ 75,000 in fines and $ 7,285.47 in enforcement fees to settle nearly 150 violations. separate from state regulations between 2006 and 2013, many of which deal with sulfur dioxide emissions.
Celena Cage, administrator of the law enforcement division of DEQ, said the amount of the fine was determined using a formula established by state law that measures the degree of risk or impact on human health or property, as well as the nature or severity of the violation. Under this formula, individual infractions can result in fines ranging from $ 100 to $ 32,500.
Cage also confirmed that the company still has several outstanding violations that remain unresolved dating from 2013 to present.