U.S. Forges Novel Environmental Deal with Steel Maker

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2000 (ENS) - A North Carolina based steel company has agreed to spend nearly $100 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that it failed to control pollution released from its factories in seven states. The agreement, finalized on Tuesday with the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), represents the largest and most comprehensive environmental settlement ever reached with a steel manufacturer.

steel mill

The manufacture of steel can generate heavy emissions. Pictured here are the Corns Coke Ovens in Middlebrough, England. (Photo courtesy European Commission)

The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, requires the Nucor Corporation to undertake broad environmental improvements at its 14 facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The company will pay a $9 million civil penalty and spend another $4 million on continued emissions monitoring of hazardous pollutants and environmental projects designed to benefit the communities where the factories are located.

EPA administrator Carol Browner, in announcing the agreement, said, "This is one more action by the Clinton administration to protect the health of families and local communities from threats to their health posed by toxic pollution. "[This] action sends a signal once again that this administration will ensure that our environmental laws are properly enforced."

Browner

Carol Browner's stint as EPA Administrator comes to a close on January 20th. Browner's announcement of the Nucor settlement was called a "political parting shot" by the company's president. (Photo courtesy EPA)

In a written statement, Nucor president and CEO Daniel DiMicco expressed surprise at the "tone, timing and lack of information" in the joint EPA/Justice Department settlement announcement.

DiMicco characterized Browner's remarks as a "political parting shot," adding that he was "stunned" that the outgoing EPA administrator did not mention the "complete openness" and "candor" that the company has shown to federal regulators over the course of the last 18 months.

"Clearly, this spirit of cooperation was not rewarded," DiMicco said. "Despite our disappointment in the political spin of this announcement, Nucor remains committed to fulfilling all the provisions of its agreement with EPA."

The settlement resolves allegations that Nucor violated environmental standards regulating the release of pollutants into the air, water and soil.

A complaint accompanying the settlement alleges that Nucor's failure to control air pollution resulted in thousands of tons of illegal air emissions each year. The complaint alleges that Nucor mismanaged K061 dust, a hazardous waste produced by its steel furnaces.

This dust, which contains lead and cadmium, was disposed of improperly at Nucor factories, where it contaminated soil and groundwater. The dust was discharged illegally through wastewater and storm water, the complaint charged.

The settlement agreement pertains to eight Nucor mini-mills, which produce steel by melting scrap metal in large electric arc furnaces, as well as six steel fabrication plants, where the final molding and painting of steel products occurs.

Under the agreement, Nucor will pay for the installation of an estimated $85 million worth of state of the art pollution controls at its facilities.

The company will pay a $9 million civil penalty to settle allegations that it violated a host of federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a hazardous waste statute.

In addition, the agreement calls for Nucor to carry out several community based projects to benefit the environment.

Federal officials say the settlement agreement has the potential for reducing an estimated 6,400 tons of nitrogen oxide and 3,000 tons of volatile organic compounds over eight years. The air pollution control equipment to be installed by Nucor will limit emissions of nitrogen oxides from its arc furnaces and reheat furnaces.

The technology called for in the settlement is expected to set a new standard in the steel industry for controlling emissions of nitrogen oxides from furnaces and volatile organic compounds from paint operations. Nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are key contributors to ground-level ozone, or smog, which can decrease lung function and aggravate respiratory problems.

Four states - Arkansas, Utah, South Carolina and Nebraska - have joined the United States in the settlement with Nucor.

Nucor maintains that in announcing the settlement, the EPA and the Justice Department did not make clear a number of facts. Among them:

Nucor officials say they have already has addressed one major EPA issue: reinforcing and expanding its environmental management system to formalize procedures throughout its plants. The company notes that it has created an environmental management department in each of the mills covered in the agreement.