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Nucor Corp. told the Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday that a state agency and Big River Steel did not follow the legal requirements necessary to secure an air permit for the $1.3 billion steel mill under construction near Osceola.

The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission approved Big River's air permit last year soon after a decision by an administrative law judge affirmed the permit.

The reason Nucor is suing Big River Steel is not because of competition, David Taggart of Shreveport, a Nucor attorney, said in an interview after oral arguments were completed Wednesday before a three-judge Court of Appeals panel.

Nucor operates two steel mills near Blytheville in Mississippi County. The Big River Steel plant was developed by John Correnti, who died in August. Correnti was a former chief executive officer for Nucor and was instrumental in Nucor building its two mills in Mississippi County.

"This is about leveling the playing field so that the rules are the rules for everybody," Taggart said. "Just because you have a big project doesn't mean that you get to short-circuit the rules."

Nucor filed 100 pages of detailed notices of legal errors made by the commission and the administrative law judge, including an allegation that the permit didn't comply with the federal Clean Air Act, Taggart said.

Mike Montgomery, an attorney for Big River Steel, pointed out to the judges that state law requires that deference should be given to decisions made by administrative law judges and state commissions.

The administrative law judge meticulously covered the reasons for approving the air permit in his 71-page decision, Montgomery said.

Nucor's arguments Wednesday offered no surprises, Montgomery said in an interview after oral arguments were presented.

Nucor is using a "grasping-at-straws approach" to stop the Big River project, Montgomery said.

"I think we adequately addressed every concern that the [Court of Appeals] had," said Montgomery, who said he has no concerns that the Court of Appeals judges will rule in favor of Nucor.

Nucor's complaints about the Big River Steel mill have been addressed by an administrative law judge for the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, by the commission itself, by a Mississippi County circuit judge, before a Pulaski County circuit judge and before a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Nucor also has lodged a complaint against the Big River Steel mill before the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Nucor is suing plants developed by Correnti in Mississippi.

"We're dealing with a very motivated opponent, Nucor, who wants to stop our mill at all costs," said Martin Booher, a Big River attorney. "They have significant resources and have hired very talented and experienced attorneys to do everything in their power to stop the project."

The Big River Steel plant in Mississippi County should open in April, Booher said

The plant is expected to employ about 525 people when it opens, with an average income of $75,000 a year when potential bonuses are included. Plant construction has employed about 2,000 workers.

A decision by the Court of Appeals could be made in less than a month, said one Big River Steel attorney.

Business on 10/29/2015

Print Headline: Nucor assails mill nod in court

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