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Steel company tells appeals court Arkansas erred in granting permit for rival's mill


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A steel company asked the state Court of Appeals on Wednesday to reverse a regulatory panel's decision to issue an air permit for a rival's $1.3 billion mill in northeast Arkansas.

An attorney for Nucor Corp. argued before a three-judge panel that the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission didn't follow state law or procedures when it approved the permit for the Big River Steel mill under construction in Osceola. Nucor operates a mill about 20 miles away.

"The law is the law," David Taggart told the judges. "It can't be ignored just because you've got a big project."

Nucor has argued that Big River Steel's permit application doesn't meet federal and state air quality requirements, and said the commission didn't perform a proper review of an administrative law judge's decision approving the permit. It has also argued that Big River Steel misrepresented whether the plant equipment could meet the emissions standards in its permit.

An attorney for Big River Steel told the judges that the commission followed the correct procedure, and argued Nucor's challenge was more about competing with a rival than the law.

"When an appeal is brought based not on legal principle but out of competitive instinct, the arguments advanced in support of that appeal very typically skew materially away from sound reason and settled law," Michael Montgomery said. "And that is very much the case here today."

Construction began last year on the plant, the state's first "superproject" under a 2004 state constitutional amendment that allows Arkansas to borrow money to help lure major employers. The state has issued $125 million in bonds for the project, which is also receiving millions in other public funds.

Once finished, the plant is expected to employ more than 500 people with an average annual pay of $75,000.

The judges didn't indicate when they'd rule. Nucor is also appealing a federal judge's February decision that dismissed its lawsuit challenging the Big River Steel project.

Nucor had argued that the federal Clean Air Act allows its lawsuit under a provision that says a citizen lawsuit is authorized against anyone alleged to be violating an emission standard, or anyone who proposes to build or builds a "major emitting facility" without a permit.

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