Shintech matter continues to drag on

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 3, 1998

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 3, 1998

CONVENT – The 18-month Shintech saga in St. James Parish continues todrag on, with no end in sight.

“I have to say I’m sick and tired of it,” E.E. “Erv” Schroeder, Shintech’svice-president of manufacturing, said Thursday.

“It’s surely taking up quite a bit of my time,” Robert Kuehn of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic noted.

Still pending are matters of the Shintech air and water quality permits and the allegations of environmental racism, all under U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency scrutiny.

The environmental justice matter, which comes under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, involves the prohibition of any agency receiving federal funds from practicing racial discrimination. EPA’s methodology ofhanding the Shintech matter is now under review of the EPA’s Sciences Advisory Board, Kuehn said.

Other matters, including the air and water quality permits, remain under consideration, as is a motion filed by the law clinic to have top Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials, including Secretary J. DaleGivens, recused for having publicly voiced favorable prejudice toward Shintech.

The next court hearing on that motion, already once denied and reversed, is set Aug. 28, Kuehn said.”Just when we think everything has been resolved, then another thing comes up,” Schroeder noted. “On the environmental justice issue, there’sbeen more mud than anything else.”EPA head Carol Browner initially denied the air quality permit application for Shintech, and Schroeder noted this was the first time the EPA has stepped in to override a state agency on an air quality permit based on claims of environmental racism. The proposed site abuts the communitiesof Convent and Romeville.

Schroeder added EPA has announced it would make a decision on the environmental justice issue “eight or 10 times,” but that announcement is always postponed.

On another front, the Louisiana Supreme Court on June 17 issued new legal guidelines governing the activities of law clinics. The TulaneEnvironmental Law Clinic has been representing involved environmental groups.

“I’m not for depriving poor people of legal representation,” Schroeder said, but added, “It’s unfortunate that something good like this got embroiled in this controversy. We’re just a sleepy little PVC plant andcan’t believe this.”On the local level, there are proponents and opponents of the Shintech issue. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network, headed by Marylee Orr,declared recently the DEQ’s enforcement of environmental polluters are at a 10-year low, worse even than under the notoriously lax Edwards years.

A recently released study by the law clinic, Orr said, found that in fiscal 1997 the DEQ assessed only 42 penalties throughout the entire state, representing 4.5 percent of all enforcement actions, the lowest numberand percentage of penalties in DEQ history.

Is there an end in sight? Schroeder thinks so, but which way it will go is another matter.

“My perspective in these days with the attention to minorities, it’s much more difficult to do anything because of the power vested in them. That’swhy we have a huge buffer zone, to not harm people,” Schroeder said.

Kuehn said Shintech “originally wanted to break ground in January 1997,” and added a deal was recently offered in Washington to have other St.

James Parish industries cut back on their emissions so as to produce a net no-more-than-present level.

“That was rejected outright,” Kuehn stated.

However, according to E/The Environmental Magazine’s July-August 1998 issue, the average U.S. citizen is exposed to 10 pounds of toxic chemicalreleases per year. The average Convent resident is exposed, even beforeShintech, to 4,517 pounds per year.

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