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Economy

Planned cyanide plant sparks legal battle in Louisiana

Company sues after local authorities rescind a permit to build it

by Michael McCoy
April 11, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 15

 

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Credit: 24th Judicial Justice Court, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

A Louisiana chemical maker is suing the local government for pulling a permit for a new hydrogen cyanide (HCN) plant a little more than a year after granting the firm permission to build it.

The company, Cornerstone Chemical, won the approval in January 2018 from Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Council. The firm wants to build the plant as part of an expansion of its site in Waggaman, Louisiana, to take advantage of low-cost energy and raw materials extracted from shale. The site was built by American Cyanamid in the 1950s and has been through several corporate owners since.

Cornerstone generates HCN as a by-product of making acrylonitrile and sells the HCN to nearby Evonik Industries as a raw material for methyl methacrylate. As a result of new technology installed in the expansion, the acrylonitrile plant would produce less by-product HCN. Cornerstone wants to build the on-purpose HCN plant to make up for the loss.

Following the approval, Cornerstone says in the lawsuit, it spent more than $10 million on engineering, design, licensing, and other costs as it prepared for upgrading its acrylonitrile facility and building the HCN plant. But local sentiment against the project began to well up. It spilled over at a Feb. 12 public hearing at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, where environmentalists and numerous local residents stood up to register their opposition to the expansion.

At an April 3 meeting, the Jefferson Parish Council officially rescinded approval to build the HCN plant, even though, Cornerstone’s lawsuit says, “no one who spoke, including any council members, identified either a mistake, error of fact, or misrepresentation” in Cornerstone’s original application.

Cornerstone wants a temporary restraining order and injunctions against the Parish Council’s decision. A judge in Louisiana’s 24th Judicial District Court denied the temporary restraining order and set a hearing date of April 23 on the injunctions.

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