Bayou Steel settles suit; will upgrade air pollution controls

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 10, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / July 10, 1999

LAPLACE – A three-year legal battle against Bayou Steel Corp. endedThursday in U.S. District Court, with area environmentalists claimingvictory in their Clean Air Act enforcement claim.

This decision, the largest citizen suit settlement brought under the Clean Air Act in state history, requires Bayou Steel to spend more than $1.3million on air pollution control system upgrades.

In addition, Bayou Steel was ordered to pay $345,000 to fund environmental and public health projects in St. John the Baptist Parish.Bayou Steel president Jerry Pitts said the settlement only came because it was too expensive to continue the litigation and, if money was going to be paid out, it should stay local.

Pitts insisted, however, that all the allegations made in the suit were totally false.

Kim Delfino of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) commented,”With this settlement, we have ensured that Bayou Steel will be in compliance with the Clean Air Act, or face further prosecution and additional penalties if it is not.”The settlement was signed by U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon ofLuling. The suit was originally filed in February 1996 by neighbors of thesteel mill, where the company processes scrap metal into structural steel products.

The suit charged Bayou Steel with thousands of air emission violations, most measured by the company’s own emission monitors, failure to run its emission monitors for weeks at a time and other violations of state and federal environmental laws.

Bayou Steel claimed it has never violated air pollution laws and counter- charged that the suit was filed rather on behalf of the United Steelworkers of America local, which was on strike there from 1993 to 1996.

“Nothing was being hidden,” Pitts continued. “In every visual readingtaken, we have not been in violation. We’ve been turned inside out andwe’ve never received one violation.””Bayou Steel responded to this lawsuit in the worst possible way,” Josh Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center said. “Bayou Steel haslearned a painful lesson: it doesn’t pay to pollute.”As a result of the settlement, Bayou Steel will spend $400,000 to upgrade the plant’s air pollution control system, fund a St. John Parish AsthmaRegistry and Asthma Education and Intervention Project (run by the LSU Medical Center), spend $650,000 to further reduce furnace emissions and spend $199,320 to further reduce air pollution by paving roads, yards and truck turnaround areas to cut dust.

“This settlement will benefit the residents of St. John Parish for years tocome,” the Rev. Wendell Norman, of the St. John Citizens forEnvironmental Justice, commented.

In addition to ensuring that air pollution from the plant’s steel furnaces will be kept within legal limits, officials say Bayou Steel is committed to making additional air quality improvements that go above and beyond what is required by state and federal law.

Pitts concluded, “Our policy has always been to mitigate. We don’t fearthose who monitor the air quality.”Bayou Steel has been in operation in LaPlace since 1981.

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