Nucor, Big River steel companies renew battle in federal court over air permit for new plant

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A company that received a state permit to build a new steel mill in eastern Arkansas said Friday that a federal judge should block a challenge mounted by an existing nearby mill.

Big River Steel said in court documents that the challenge by Nucor Steel was a "collateral attack" on a company that already has permission from state regulators to build a $1.3 million plant near Osceola. Nucor already fought the permit and lost at the state level.

Nucor has claimed in federal court that Big River Steel has violated the Clean Air Act and that it should be able to press claims under the law's "citizen suit" provision. Big River Steel claims that is giving Nucor another bite at the apple.

"The question for this Court is whether Congress intended for (the) Clean Air Act ... to authorize dissatisfied litigants, like Nucor, to run to federal court to challenge" the permit, the court filing said.

"Big River Steel respectfully suggests that the answer is 'No,'" it said.

In its lawsuit, Nucor says its employees could be sickened by the new plant's future emissions and that a reduction in the area's air quality could decrease the value of Nucor's facilities.

Big River's lawyers responded that: "Every court to have considered a claim like Nucor's has concluded that (the Clean Air Act) does not authorize suit where construction activity is in accordance with a permit issued by an authorized permit-issuing authority," which in this case is the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Big River's lawyers said.

But Nucor claims that ADEQ's authority is rooted in federal regulations and that the bottom line is to protect the environment.

In September, Big River broke ground on the mill near the Mississippi River just 20 miles from the Nucor mill at Blytheville.

The Big River mill is to produce steel for the automobile and energy industries and power plants. It is the only project that has qualified for voter-backed economic aid. Ten years ago, voters gave legislators authority to borrow money for economic development.

Construction is expected to take two years.

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