LITTLE ROCK — The state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday approved an air permit for the $1.1 billion Big River Steel mill planned for Mississippi County.
In a voice vote with no "no" votes heard, the commission upheld an administrative law judge’s March 20 decision to affirm the air permit, which the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved last year.
The commission rejected arguments by Nucor Corp., which owns two existing steel mills in Mississippi County, that the permit should be rejected.
David Taggart, attorney for Nucor, said after the vote he expected the company to file a court challenge.
"We have said all along whichever party had gotten the decision against them is going to be taking an appeal to let a court re-evaluate the decision of the commission, and I’m sure that Nucor will be doing that," he said.
Big River Steel CEO John Correnti said Nucor "can do what they want to do," but he said that now that the commission has upheld the administrative law judge’s decision, financing for the project should go forward.
"Our financial backers, both equity and debt, are going to be pleased with the outcome today," he said.
Taggart argued during the commission’s meeting that Big River Steel should have used an air monitor in Marion instead of one in Dyersburg, Tenn., to represent the air quality in the area near Osceola where the plant is to be built. There is no monitor in Osceola.
Taggart also argued that ADEQ did not have all the information it needed when it approved the permit.
Commissioner Lawrence Bengal asked Taggart why ADEQ would approve a permit improperly.
"I think what happened is ADEQ got caught up in the economic and political pressure" to approve the permit, Taggart said.
Bengal told Taggart, "I can guarantee you, the law will not be broken just because of some pressure."
Talking to reporters later, Correnti was dismissive of Nucor’s allegations that the permitting process was flawed.
"This is not about air quality. This is about competition," he said.
The mill is expected to employ 545 workers at an average annual salary of $75,000. About 2,000 people are expected to be hired for construction, which could begin as early as June and is expected to take about two years.