A full review of the effect on air, water, and the surrounding community must be complete before the state allows an international company to start building a cement plant in New Hanover County, a judge has ruled.
The ruling is a setback for Titan America, which wants to build a plant that would produce 2.2 million tons of cement a year and release pollutants such as mercury and greenhouse gases.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens ordered the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to stop work on the proposal until the company does a full environmental review as required by state law. The state Division of Air Quality is evaluating permits that, if issued, will allow the company to build a kiln.
"With this decision, the Titan project will get the environmental scrutiny that it deserves and that the law requires," said Derb S. Carter Jr., director of the Carolinas office for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents environmental groups fighting for a full state review.
Titan America and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said they had not decided whether to appeal.
Carolinas Cement Co., a Titan subsidiary, wants to build the plant near the Northeast Cape Fear River in New Hanover. In exchange for 160 jobs and the company's investment, the county and the state offered $4.5 million in incentives.
Lawyers representing environmental groups said the government incentives counted as an expenditure of public money. Under state law, government spending on the project would trigger a comprehensive environmental review.
The state environmental agency and the state Department of Administration disagreed. In his ruling, Stephens said the grants trigger the State Environmental Policy Act, the law that talks about full environmental reviews.
The full review would evaluate different pollution control systems, look at effects on wetlands and surrounding neighborhoods, and consider whether there's a better place in the state for the plant than the swamps of the Northeast Cape Fear, said Michelle Nowlin, an attorney with the Environmental Policy and Law Clinic at Duke University, which represents PenderWatch & Conservancy.
"If they had complied with SEPA from the beginning," she said, "they'd be done by now."
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