State issues ultimatum to North Star Steel

ADEQ wants answers.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has given North Star Steel, the steel mill located just west of Kingman, an ultimatum: Provide answers to its questions concerning an air quality permit application by June 22, or else.

"If they don't answer, the matter would be kicked over to compliance and enforcement section instead of our permitting section and then it would be that sort of action," said ADEQ spokesman Kurt Maurer.

North Star, which opened its mill in Kingman in 1996, was originally granted an air quality permit from ADEQ that designated the mill as a "minor source" polluter.

Not only does North Star not comply with this designation, it wouldn't even comply as a "major source" polluter, said Maurer.

"They're, in fact, a step above, a major source," he said.

In January of 1999 North Star submitted an application for a new air quality permit.

Since that time, ADEQ has been working to gather the information it needs to process the permit.

For its part, North Star has claimed that it never intended to deceive ADEQ about its emissions but is dealing with new technology that hasn't performed as expected and about which there is a dearth of information.

In the meantime, said North Star spokesman Greg Lauer, the company has been in constant contact with ADEQ and has been working in "good faith" to provide the answers to ADEQ's questions.

"North Star Steel has been and will continue to work in good faith with ADEQ," Lauer said.

"We are working quickly to respond to ADEQ's request."

In fact, he said, North Star has paid additional fees in an effort to expedite the permitting process and bring the plant into compliance.

The plant, he points out, has never exceeded federal air quality standards and its emissions are not a threat to humans or the environment.

The issue is obtaining the appropriate state permit.

But in a 14-page May 22 letter to North Star plant manager Tim Bourcier, the manager of air quality permits for ADEQ, Prabhat Bhargava, reveals ADEQ's frustration.

"The Department is providing (North Star Steel) with one more opportunity" to provide the information ADEQ needs to process the permit application, Bhargava writes.

He writes that rather than follow industry guidelines in North Star's analysis of some of its equipment, "(North Star) simply provided a weak justification for its existing equipment."

"(North Star) also did not provide the information requested by the Department regarding work practices and their impact on (nitrogen oxide) emissions.

In its May 27, 1999 response, (North Star) proposed a lower melt shop (nitrogen oxide) emission limit ...

which is approximately 20 percent lower than the level initially proposed but is still considerably higher than the levels achieved by other steel mini-mill facilities."

The letter goes on to detail all of the information the department will need to make a decision on the permit application.

In response to the letter, Maurer said North Star's lawyers met this week with the state attorney general's office.

"We found that the meeting was productive and things are going in the right direction," he said.

"They've requested more time, and our response to that was we need to see specifics before we can agree to a new schedule."

North Star has had trouble with the state in the past.

Last August, the Associated Press reported that the state attorney general's office is investigating claims that North Star engaged in fraud and conspiracy when it obtained a minor source permit for a plant that couldn't meet those emissions standards.

No charges were filed and North Star denied the claim.

In January, North Star agreed to pay the state $35,000 to settle charges stemming from seven effluent spills in 1997 and 1998.

The plant, which is the largest steel recycling mini-mill in Arizona, has about 270 employees.