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Arkansas commission gives Big River Steel ‘go’

Keywords: Tags  Big River Steel, John Correnti, Nucor, air permit, Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, Charles Moulton, steel, Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Big River Steel LLC’s proposed $1.1-billion steel mill appears poised to move forward after Arkansas environmental officials decided in favor of the mill April 25.

The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission upheld a recent ruling granting an air permit to the proposed mill, which is backed by steel industry veteran John D. Correnti and is expected to make steel for the automotive, energy and electrical sectors.

"The commission’s decision was to affirm the recommended decision and uphold the permit," Charles Moulton, the commission’s administrative law judge, told AMM via e-mail April 25.

The commission’s decision came after complaints filed by Charlotte, N.C.-based steelmaker Nucor Corp. were denied (, March 21). Nucor’s objections centered on an air permit granted to Big River Steel.

Nucor said it was "disappointed" with the decision. "We are reviewing the commission’s decision and our options for appeal going forward," a Nucor spokesman said in an e-mail to AMM.

Big River’s air permit shouldn’t have been issued, Nucor said, alleging that the potential rival’s plans fail to meet state and federal air pollution standards. "One of the biggest concerns is that the emissions limits proposed by Big River Steel are substantially below levels that other EF (electric-arc furnace) operators have found to be achievable using the same technology," the company said.

If Big River Steel were to fail to meet air quality standards, it could hurt industrial development in and around Osceola, Ark., where the project is expected to be built, as well as prevent the expansion of existing facilities, according to Nucor. The company wants to ensure that Clean Air Act requirements are, therefore, "evenly applied and properly followed" by Big River Steel, it added.

Nucor also noted that Armorel, Ark.-based Nucor Steel-Arkansas and Blytheville, Ark.-based Nucor-Yamato Steel Co. could potentially be impacted by emissions from Big River Steel.

The matter could next go to state circuit court, and there are provisions in the law that could see it removed within 10 days to the Arkansas Court of Appeals or the Arkansas Supreme Court, Moulton said by phone after the hearing, declining to speculate whether the April 25 decision meant the Big River project would move forward.

"(Nucor and Big River Steel) will make the next moves and the next decisions," he said.

The commission’s decision represents a "big step" toward the Big River project getting under way, Correnti told AMM in an interview April 25, brushing aside Nucor’s objections to the air permit as an attempt to "stifle competition."

"If you say it’s about the environment and not the competition, it’s probably about the competition," he said.

"Hopefully we will start moving dirt in late June or early July," Correnti said, estimating that the mill could take roughly two years to build. "So if we get started in July 2014, we should be melting steel by July 2016, maybe a little bit earlier."

The exact timing will depend in part on when equipment is delivered, but should proceed smoothly given the long building season in the south, Correnti said. The project has received "a lot of interest" to date, he said. "Customers are smart and they want another option."

Correnti, the former vice chairman, president and chief executive officer of Nucor, announced plans to build the steel mill in January 2013 (, Jan. 29, 2013).

Big River Steel is expected to produce hot-rolled, cold-rolled, galvanized, and pickled and oil coiled products for the automotive sector; grain- and non-grain-oriented electrical steels for the electrical sector; and substrate for the pipe and tube sector. It would have an annual capacity of 1.7 million tons under the first phase and an additional 1.7 million tons in the second phase.

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