The Southern Environmental Law Center claimed April 27 that the state of North Carolina shirked its legal responsibility to protect people from avoidable harm by not requiring the coal-fired Titan America cement plant project in New Hanover County to reduce its pollution to the maximum extent possible.
The center said in its April 27 statement that filed documents to that effect that day in state court. The center filed a legal challenge to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality’s air permit for the plant on behalf of the N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Fear River Watch, PenderWatch & Conservancy and the Sierra Club in the Office of Administrative Hearings.
“By allowing the cement company to emit unnecessary and harmful levels of pollution, the state’s permit for Titan’s pollution fails residents and visitors of North Carolina and violates state and federal law,” said Geoff Gisler, an attorney for the center who represents the groups. “Ignoring available pollution controls, the state granted Titan’s toxic recipe to pollute the air we all breathe.”
After a 2009 Wake County Superior Court determination that DAQ violated state law in issuing Titan a draft permit, Titan America submitted a revised application in 2011. The revised application proposed to emit 5,423 tons of particulate matter, SO2, NOx, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds each year despite the availability of better pollution controls, the center said. DENR’s analysis only resulted in a reduction of 110 tons before issuing a permit for the company to put 5,313 annual tons of those harmful pollutants – 98% of what Titan requested – into the air, the center added.
Located on the Northeast Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne, the cement kiln would be a significant source of toxic emissions, such as mercury and hydrochloric acid, as well as sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to ozone pollution, the center said.
The DAQ announced Feb. 29 the issuance of an air permit for this project, the first in a series of environmental permits that Carolinas-Titan Cement Co. would need for the facility in northern New Hanover County. The DAQ said the air permit sets emissions limits based on all applicable state and federal air quality standards. The standards applied to the permit are more stringent than those in effect when the facility was first proposed in 2008, the agency added. The project still must receive environmental permits from other state and federal agencies and the issuance of an air permit does not commit the state to issue any of the remaining permits.
“This permit ensures that the Titan plant will require state-of-the art air pollution controls to protect public health and the environment,” DAQ Director Sheila Holman said at the time. “Air emissions would be much lower than expected when the facility was first proposed.”
The project website shows that coal would be the primary fuel source, with 150,000 to 280,000 tons of coal use annually, with all the coal to be delivered by rail. Petroleum coke could also be used. Titan America’s Carolinas Cement Co. subsidiary said that it is investigating the use of biomass and recycled tires at its existing facilities, but that these options are not included in the initial permit for the new facility. The company plans to produce up to 2.4 million tons of cement annually at this new plant.