Federal judge dismisses Nucor lawsuit challenging Big River Steel mill in eastern Arkansas

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A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a steel company's lawsuit against a rival, saying it couldn't use the court system to bypass state regulators who had already given the rival permission to build a new mill.

U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes ruled the lawsuit by Nucor Steel seeking to halt construction of a Big River Steel mill in Osceola is not authorized under the citizen lawsuit provision of the federal Clean Air Act. He said his court has no jurisdiction over the case.

Nucor, which has a steel mill in Blytheville, has opposed construction of the $1.3 million Big River mill about 20 miles away.

Big River attorney Martin Booher released a statement from the company saying it is pleased with Holmes' ruling.

"Nucor's ongoing legal challenges aimed at preventing a competitor from entering the market is an abuse of the legal system," the company said. "Given that Nucor is the largest steel producer in North America with almost 25% of the steel production capacity, Big River Steel continues to wonder why Nucor is spending so much time and energy trying to prevent a company that will represent less than 1.5 percent of the North American steel production from entering the market."

The office of Nucor attorney David Taggart in Shreveport, Louisiana, was closed because of inclement weather and Taggart did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Nucor had argued that the 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.

Holmes' ruling noted Big River Steel's counter argument to Nucor's claim.

"Big River Steel's motion to dismiss is based on the commonsense observations that it cannot be in violation of an emission standard ... because the mill is still under construction and is not operational, so it is not emitting anything; and it cannot be guilty of constructing a major emitting facility without a permit because it has a permit," Holmes wrote.

Nucor currently has an appeal pending in state court that challenges the approval of an air permit granted by the state for Big River's mill.

Big River Steel broke ground in September at an event attended by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe. The project is Arkansas' first "superproject" under a 2004 amendment allowing the state to borrow money to help lure major employers.

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