New emission regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could result in the shutdown of a local ferroalloys plant, a company representative said Tuesday.
"We don't want to panic people, but people need to understand what's going on," said Joy Frank-Collins, a spokesman for Eramet Marietta and Felman Production of Letart, W.Va., the only two manganese ferroalloy plants in the United States, which are about 80 miles apart. The plants employ more than 450 people, with 200 at Eramet.
The EPA released its National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Ferroalloys Production at the end of November. The rule, which takes effect in June, is similar to the EPA's Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule over toxic emissions that impacted coal-fired power plants, resulting in the closure of three facilities in West Virginia, including at Willow Island.
It's a national issue impacting the United States steel industry and will increase the trade deficit by more than $500 million. American producers of steel, of which ferromanganese is a component, will be reliant on foreign sources, Frank-Collins said.
The ferroalloys rule also requires the plants to install emissions controls to meet the stricter standards, Frank-Collins said. The cost at Eramet would be from $70 million to $80 million, dwarfing the $40 million spent there in the last four years to improve environmental performance, an investment that could not be recovered, she said.
"If the rule is finalized as it is proposed, it would be nearly impossible for these two companies to continue operating," Frank-Collins said.
The companies were aware new regulations were going to be promulgated, but not as restrictive as proposed, she said. Eramet and Felman are discussing options with EPA scientists and have commented on the new rules to the agency.
"Basically this rule has the potential to kill our industry," she said.
It is not the first time that has been said, said Eric Fitch, director of the Environmental Science Program at Marietta College. If regulation had such an impact, there would be no manufacturing, mining, drilling or production, he said.
"It's the same old song," Fitch said.
In this case, companies would not be limited because of available technologies as several exist to clean emissions from the plants, he said. Fitch said he has spoken with EPA representatives.
"The EPA would be more than willing to go with the one that is the most effective for Eramet," Fitch said.
Eramet and Felman also are working with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. The two members of Congress have joined 50 other legislators in a letter on Monday to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to reconsider the proposed rules.
"We have been informed that the scientific justification for the proposed rule is outdated and may not be supported by real-world data, and that the standards may not be achievable in practice by real world facilities," the letter said. "In establishing the proposed standards, EPA relies upon a science assessment issued in 1993, neglecting recent peer-reviewed scientific information. To achieve the proposed standards, EPA's proposal assumes that the affected facilities would install technologies that may not be appropriate or effective as applied to ferroalloys production facilities."
The EPA is asked, before it issues a final rule, to ensure that standards are based on the best scientific and technical information and that it works with Eramet and Felman to identify feasible technologies to achieve the environmental goals and protect jobs and the economy.
"This is something we've seen over and over from this EPA. Regulations coming out of Washington are hurting the economy and destroying jobs," Capito said. "The EPA has attempted to dismantle the coal industry through regulation and the consequences have been disastrous. Dozens of coal-fueled fire plants and factories have shut down across the country."
Also signing the letter were U.S. Rep. David McKinley and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Johnson said the Obama administration's attack on jobs and free enterprise by out-of-control government regulation must end.
"This is a threat to our economy and our national security, and it is totally unacceptable," Johnson said.