WASHINGTON — The federal government has reached settlements of Clean Air Act claims with three U.S. producers of carbon black that effectively bring a conclusion to an investigation that dates back to 2007.
The agreements reached Dec. 22 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice with Orion Engineered Carbons L.L.C., Sid Richardson Carbon and Energy Co. and Columbian Chemicals — part of Birla Carbon — requires the three to collectively spend more than $300 million to install and operate state-of-the-art pollution-control technologies to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants.
In addition, each firm will pay civil penalties and perform environmental mitigation projects.
Orion said in a statement it estimates it will invest from $110 million to $140 million over six years to upgrade its pollution-control technology to further reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter from its U.S. carbon black plants in Ivanhoe, La.; Belpre, Ohio; and Borger and Orange, Texas.
The firm also will pay a civil penalty of $800,000 and perform environmental mitigation projects totaling $550,000.
The EPA estimated the settlement will result in a reduction of sulfur-dioxide emissions of about 10,000 metric tons a year, along with about 1,663 tons of nitrogen oxide.
The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day federal comment period, a 45-day Louisiana comment period, and final court approval.
Orion said that as previously disclosed, all claims except for certain allegations by the EPA in 2016 related to the facility in Orange, are for actions that occurred before Orion took ownership over the four facilities, which it purchased in 2011 from a subsidiary of Evonik Industries A.G.
The firm said its agreement with Evonik provides for a partial indemnity against various exposure connected to Clean Air Act violations that occurred prior to July 29, 2011.
"We have worked hard to find a solution to this matter which has been a focus for our company since the beginning of Orion group," Orion CEO Jack Clem said.
"After several years of review and analysis, we believe this settlement provides the best outcome for all parties. We will be pleased to see this part of the story come to a close so that we can begin implementing the actions necessary to ensure a sustainable supply of U.S.-produced carbon black for our customers."
The proposed settlement between Columbian Chemicals/Birla Carbon calls for the carbon black producer to spend about $95 million over the next four years to install advanced control technologies and continuous emissions-monitoring systems at its factories in Hickock, Kan., and North Bend, La. It also will pay civil penalties of $650,000 and perform other environmental projects valued at $375,000.
The EPA projects emissions reductions of 5,880 tons a year of sulfur dioxide and 465 tons of nitrogen oxide. This settlement also is subject to the federal and Louisiana public comment period and final court approvals.
Birla Carbon said that as one of the leading global makers of carbon black, it has a "long history of engaging in sustainable operational excellence activities, including continuing to look for ways to reduce any potential impact that our operations could have on the environments in which we operate," according to John Loudermilk, Birla Carbon chief operating officer.
"This settlement resolves Birla Carbon's involvement in the EPA's multi-year, industry-wide initiative to have the carbon black industry reduce air emissions significantly below those required by current regulations," Mr. Loudermilk said.
"While Birla Carbon has denied any noncompliance, we have agreed to enter into this consent decree as part of our continued commitment to the environment and to ensure ongoing reliable supply of Birla Carbon products to our customers."
Sid Richardson will spend more than $100 million for upgrades at carbon black factories in Addis, La., and Big Spring and Borger, Texas, according to the EPA. It also must pay civil penalties of $999,000 and perform environmental projects valued at $490,000.
The EPA estimates this will bring sulfur dioxide emissions reduction of 10,198 tons a year, with nitrogen oxide emissions cut by 984 tons annually.
This agreement also must gain final court approval following the federal and Louisiana public comment periods.
The EPA said it initiated its investigation of the carbon-black manufacturing sector in 2007. Cabot Corp. settled in 2013, agreeing to pay a $975,000 civil penalty and spend more than $84 million to control air pollution at three U.S. carbon black plants, pay a civil penalty of $975,000 and invest $450,000 toward environmental projects.
In 2015, Continental Carbon Co. entered into a consent decree to pay about $98 million to cut the emissions at facilities in Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas. It also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $650,000 and spend another $550,000 on environmental projects.