Jackson, Mississippi — The legal fight over a silicon metal plant being built in northeast Mississippi is expanding.
Steelmaker Nucor Corp. wants to intervene on the side of those who say the state improperly issued an air pollution permit to Mississippi Silicon. And the plaintiffs, who were already suing Mississippi Silicon, served notice Nov. 14 that they plan to include the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality as well.
A hearing set for Tuesday was cancelled after U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock recused herself. She assigned U.S. District Judge Debra Brown to take over the case.
Suing in this case are 16 Front Street LLC and C. Richard Cotton of Saltillo. 16 Front Street is a subsidiary of Miami-based Globe Specialty Metals that was incorporated Oct. 6, the day the suit was filed. Cotton is a writer who says the plant's pollution would hurt his enjoyment of area parks and lakes.
Globe has sued in three other jurisdictions. Though other American companies refine silicon metal for their own use, Globe's four plants are the only domestic producers for commercial markets.
The $200 million plant would employ 200 people, making silicon metal that would be used in making aluminum, chemicals and cars. The plant is under construction and is supposed to be complete sometime in 2016.
Rima Holdings USA owns 80 percent of Mississippi Silicon and is an affiliate of Brazil's Rima Industrial SA. The remainder is owned by investors led by John Correnti. He led construction of what is now the Steel Dynamics mill in Columbus.
Those plaintiffs argue that Mississippi Silicon's air pollution permit is faulty because Mississippi didn't allow a full 30 days for comment and didn't hold a public hearing. They claim there were 29 days at best to comment, and less time actually, because documents didn't arrive at the Burnsville library until later. They also argue those materials didn't state the true level of Mississippi Silicon's pollution.
MDEQ, which can be included in the suit after 60 days' notice, disputes those claims.
MDEQ spokesman Robbie Wilbur wrote in an email that the agency had met the legal requirements for public notice about the Mississippi Silicon permit so all who wished would have "adequate opportunity" for comment.
Mississippi Silicon CFO John Lalley said in a statement that under Clean Air Act citizen suits, MDEQ can't be dragged into the litigation.
The plaintiffs also claim the state and Mississippi Silicon conspired to illegally shorten comments to prevent objections from Nucor, pointing to an MDEQ email. Its Alabama subsidiary, Nucor Steel Decatur, asked to enter the suit Nov. 21.
"Mississippi Silicon and MDEQ believed, rightfully so, that Nucor might exercise its statutory right to comment on the proposed permit, something which they desired to avoid, and worked to curtail and frustrate the (Clean Air Act) public participation mandate," Nucor wrote in court papers.
Steven Rowland, an environmental manager, said Nucor wants to comment because its Decatur facility will be downwind of Mississippi Silicon. He said that means pollution from Tishomingo County could hurt Nucor's ability to emit more pollution if it expands in Decatur.
Mississippi Silicon opposes Nucor's intervention, saying the steel company isn't part of the lawsuit. Mississippi Silicon said Nucor asked to enter at the last possible moment, in a delay that "reeks of gamesmanship." Nucor objected to the Big River Steel mill that a Correnti-led group is building in Arkansas.
"Nucor's action is in keeping with the company's ongoing harassment of projects involving Mr. John Correnti, the man who successfully brought the steel industry to Mississippi, but left Nucor in 1999," Lalley said. "Nucor's lawsuit is simply a futile attempt to delay Mississippi Silicon's project and to stop the economic benefits it brings to Tishomingo County."