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A North Carolina-based steel company with a checkered environmental past is awaiting permit approval from West Virginia air quality regulators to move forward with one of the most eagerly anticipated in-state economic development projects in recent years.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality will hold an online public meeting Thursday evening to gather input on Nucor Steel West Virginia LLC’s application to build a sheet steel mill near Apple Grove, in Mason County.

Nucor has anticipated starting up the facility in January 2024. State officials approved more than $300 million in taxpayer subsidies to help lure the company to West Virginia.

The virtual meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Division of Air Quality has mandated registration for those who wish to participate online or by telephone. Registration is required by 5 p.m. Thursday. The registration form is at https://forms.gle/kfQMFrrhfRXDMWQw7.

The Division of Air Quality has made a preliminary determination that construction of the steel mill will meet emission limits and conditions in a draft permit and comply with all state and federal air quality standards.

The facility has the potential to emit 673,848 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, 3,262 tons of carbon monoxide, 701 tons of particulate matter with diameters of 2.5 micrometers or smaller and 690 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

The mill is expected to cost $2.7 billion and employ about 800 full-time workers, using scrap steel, direct reduced iron (iron ore that has had oxygen removed by carbon monoxide and hydrogen), carbons, alloy and lime to make up to 3 million tons of steel per year.

The mill would be constructed on a 1,370-acre site owned by American Electric Power just south of APG Polytech LLC’s Apple Grove plant. That facility is located along the Kanawha River between the Ohio River and state Route 2, according to the Division of Air Quality.

Nucor would melt scrap steel in two electric arc furnaces and refine it further before sending it to a casting area where molten steel is formed into a continuous ribbon of steel. The ribbon of steel would be cut and rolled to meet customers’ desired size and thickness. Material handling and slag processing would be needed at the facility to unload, store and process feedstock materials and slag, respectively, according to the Division of Air Quality.

Slag is waste remaining from metal smelting or refining.

Nucor would be allowed to process 1.92 million tons of scrap steel per year and operate three open scrap steel stockpiles with bases of up to 81,809 square feet, and four open slag stockpiles with bases up to 32,541 square feet. The company would be required to minimize the release of emissions from all open stockpiles and use water sprays on all open piles as needed to limit any substantial release of fugitive dust emissions from them.

The facility would be on the west side of Route 2, about three-fifths of a mile from the U.S. Postal Service location at 27799 Huntington Rd., Apple Grove, WV 25502.

The three nearest residential areas to the proposed facility are the small communities of Apple Grove, Mercer’s Bottom and Ashton, according to the Division of Air Quality. Ashton Elementary School is about 1.5 miles from the proposed site.

The nearest occupied residences would be east of the proposed facility across Route 2 along Hereford Lane (county Route 24).

The Division of Air Quality cited a March 2022 modeling report submitted by Nucor that anticipates a “limited growth impact” on Mason County, despite the facility likely increasing full-time employment after construction is completed.

“[T]he installation of the plant is not expected to significantly contribute to substantial residential or commercial growth that would cause quantifiable air quality impacts,” the modeling report noted.

Nucor would be required to keep records of all data monitored in its permit and keep the information for at least five years.

Nucor also has applied for a water pollution control permit, listing the Ohio River as a receiving stream and reporting a proposed surface disturbance of 661 acres to build the mill.

The company operates sheet mills in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina that produce flat-rolled steel for automotive, appliance, construction and other uses.

Last year, Nucor Steel Louisiana LLC agreed to pay Louisiana environmental regulators $89,760 for air quality violations at a Nucor direct reduced iron facility in St. James Parish, an area known as Cancer Alley.

Cancer Alley is a term commonly used to describe an industrial hub of 150 oil refineries, chemical facilities and plastics plants with a high concentration of Black residents nearby along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The violations included recordkeeping failures; nitrogen oxide emission limit exceedances in 2015, 2016 and 2017; and what the company said was an inadvertent shutdown of its air quality monitoring station from January 2017 until June 2018, which it attributed to confusion over whether monitoring was still required or voluntary.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a grassroots environmental group, criticized the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for not taking more stringent enforcement action against Nucor.

In a July 2021 letter demanding greater monetary and nonmonetary penalties for Nucor, the group cited the company’s unpermitted emissions of the highly toxic hydrogen sulfide. Nucor admitted to Louisiana environmental regulators that a partial bypass of a sulfur removal unit existed undiscovered from sometime after 2014 to 2019, allowing carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to avoid the unit.

“For nearly a decade, Nucor has been and continues to emit increasingly high levels of toxic and hazardous pollutants in clear violation of the law,” the group noted.

In 2000, Nucor agreed to spend nearly $100 million to settle an environmental lawsuit accusing the company of failing to control pollution from its steel factories in seven states. The EPA called the settlement the largest and most comprehensive ever with a steelmaker.

The settlement required Nucor to install air pollution control equipment to limit emissions of nitrogen oxides from its arc furnaces and reheat furnaces.

Nucor has touted what it says is net-zero carbon steel, designed to give steel consumers emissions-free steel products to help them meet environmental sustainability goals.

Nucor has committed to a 35% reduction in steel mill greenhouse gas intensity by 2030, using 2015 baseline goals.

Oral comments for Thursday’s meeting will be limited to five minutes. The Division of Air Quality has asked those who wish to participate via telephone to contact Stephanie Hammonds, at 304-926-0499, Ext. 41263.

Copies of the draft permit, application and other supporting materials are available at https://dep.wv.gov/daq/permitting/Pages/NSR-Permit-Applications.aspx and may be obtained by contacting engineer Joe Kessler, at 304-926-0499, Ext. 41271, or joseph.r.kessler@wv.gov.

Written comments must be received by 5 p.m. Friday, April 29. Written comments may be emailed to joseph.r.kessler@wv.gov with “Nucor Steel West Virginia Comments” in the subject line. Hard-copy comments can be mailed to Joseph Kessler, WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Quality, 601 57th Street, SE, Charleston, WV 25304.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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