A controversial permit modification request to raise the limits on certain
types of particulate pollution was granted for Titan Cement’s proposed Castle
Hayne plant on Friday, August 30.
The decision comes less than a month after the N.C. Division
of Air Quality (DAQ) 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 an application for the
modification and extension –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 groups 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.
“If you can meet the current levels the DAQ agreed with, why
are you asking for this increase when you have already demonstrated that you
can meet the levels specified in this permit?” said Mike Giles, coastal
advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation in a July 1 interview. “I don’t think
Titan can answer that.”
Titan's permit modification application had requested an
increase in the levels of "coarse" PM of 10.4 tons per year, and an
increase in the levels of "fine" PM of 22.3 tons per year. Groups
opposing the plant have cited studies by medical groups and government agencies
to insist that the increases pose an unacceptable risk to public health. Titan
spokespeople have countered that the changes were made to reflect changes to
federal rules, which were loosened at the end of last year. They have also repeatedly
said that despite the increase in permitted PM levels, actual emissions from
the plant would not change.
However, company spokesman Bob Odom said in an Aug. 5
interview that the pollution control equipment which 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," he