MDEQ: Claim of incomplete permit review for silicon plant a ‘guise’ by competitor
by Ted Carter
Published: February 21,2014
The head of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality says an Alabama silicon manufacturer’s claim that the state agency erred in granting an operating permit to competitor Mississippi Silicon Metals lacks merit.
Selma-based Alabama Globe Metallurgical Inc. has asked for a formal evidentiary hearing before the MDEQ’s Permit Board. Trudy Fisher, MDEQ executive director, is not inclined to grant the hearing request and accused Globe Metallurgical of trying to stifle a market competitor by making false claims.
“This is an unfortunate use of the administrative process by an out-of-state competitor under the guise of raising environmental concerns,” Fisher said.
The agency “stands behind” the review and decision-making of its staff, she added in a press statement.
“The permit meets the requirements of our laws and regulations and protects the public and the environment,” Fisher said.
Globe Metallurgical’s hearing request charges that the DEQ acted too hastily in the permitting of Mississippi Silicon’s $200-million “greenfield” plant in Tishomingo County’s Burnsville.
Globe Metallurgical, or GMI, employs about 100 people at its silicon metal plant in Selma. GMI is one of North America’s largest producers of silicon metal.
GMI claims the permit issued to Mississippi Silicon would allow the site to emit air pollutants without certain control devices that are standard in the industry and, for some processes, without any air pollution controls at all.
GMI said it believes Mississippi Silicon’s application did not provide complete and accurate information to enable the DEQ to fully evaluate air-quality considerations.
The company further claims MDEQ seems to have been under pressure to process the permit more quickly than a thorough process would allow. In this case, the review process took only three months, GMA notes.
State economic development officials were eager to see the plant built in the economically depressed tri-state border region of Northeast Mississippi. Their support included $20 million in state incentives.
The new plant is the first to go up in the United States since the mid 1970s. Mississippi Silicon says more efficient manufacturing methods and new trade protection measures have made construction of the plant economically viable.
In filing the appeal, GMI formally requests that the permit be sent back to DEQ. The company says it wants the agency to further evaluate whether Mississippi Silicon will be installing the latest emission-control equipment, the equipment meets current air-quality standards, and provides complete and accurate information.
Silicon is an alloy used to strengthen such industrial products as aluminum automobile wheels and to make a host of household products, among other uses.
Mississippi Silicon responded to the competitor’s claim with a one-sentence statement. “Mississippi Silicon has its permit, and continues to move forward with the project.”
David Tuten, president and CEO of Mississippi Silicon, noted in an interview before the January ground breaking for the plant that by-products from the manufacture of silicon include slag that is sold to steel makers and smoke from the silicon plant’s furnace that is sold to the concrete industry. The silicon fumes are used to strengthen concrete in structures such as high-rise buildings and highway overpasses.
The manufacturing process does not create waste products and “has basically zero water discharge,” Tuten said, and added the Burnsville plant has all required environmental permits, including state and federal air permits.
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