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The chemical plant in Louisiana is in danger of closing if the EPA emissions deadline is not relaxed

A synthetic rubber manufacturer accused of increasing the risk of cancer for Louisiana’s nearby Black majority community told a federal appeals court that it will have to close “likely permanently” if it is forced to meet the Biden administration’s deadline to reduce emissions.

Denka Performance Elastomer on Tuesday blamed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule targeting emissions from more than 200 industrial plants, arguing that other, more dangerous facilities face a two-year deadline to comply, while this one was singled out with an “illegal and politically motivated” 90-day deadline.

The Denka factory produces neoprene, which is used to make wetsuits, car belts and other items, and employs about 250 people, the company said. It is located about half a mile from an elementary school in Reserve, Louisiana, and within 85 miles of the state’s official name as the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor. It is colloquially called Cancer Alley.

The company has been at the center of a broader fight against environmental regulations and racism — and of the Biden administration’s pledge to use its enforcement and regulatory power to make life better for residents living in communities, often poor and in the majority minority, which are disproportionately large. become victims of the consequences of pollution.

“If the 90-day implementation period is not lifted, (Denka) will be unable to comply with the rule and will be forced to close the plant, likely permanently,” the company told a federal appeals court in Washington , DC.

When the agency originally proposed stricter emissions limits, Denka had a longer time frame to comply. But the EPA sued the company last year, finding the facility posed an “imminent and substantial danger” to the nearby community. And EPA said the finding justified a shorter 90-day deadline specified in the final rule.

“Let them close,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, a group that has been fighting the plant. “They poisoned the people on Reserve.”

The new regulations target a range of emissions, including chloroprene, and will significantly reduce the risk of cancer, the agency said. The EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The company wants the EPA’s 90-day deadline suspended and says the agency will not consider extending that timeline until Denka has an emissions reduction plan in place, according to the filing. In recent years, the company has significantly reduced emissions and claims the government has overestimated the risk from chloroprene, the chemical emitted by the plant.

Environmentalists filed civil rights complaints with the EPA in 2022, arguing that Louisiana air regulators have allowed new facilities in places where Black residents already face too much pollution and won’t do enough to better monitor dangerous facilities.

After initially finding evidence of racial discrimination, the EPA halted its investigation without making any concrete findings. It was not possible to obtain commitments from government regulators before the July deadline, the agency said. That was a disappointment to activists who had hoped the investigation would force change.

However, EPA officials said there were other ways to reduce emissions. They filed a lawsuit because it posed an unacceptable risk of cancer. The agency ultimately asked for a postponement of the lawsuit until new emissions rules for industrial facilities were issued.

“(Denka) will require at least two years to plan, develop, test and install the controls required by the rule,” the company said in a court filing.

To succeed, the company must show that EPA’s deadline will cause “irreparable harm.” It uses the threat of closure to argue that the court must act quickly.

The company talked to the agency about an extension, but federal officials demanded emissions reduction commitments that Denka refused to accept.

In a statement, the company thanked Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry and other state officials for their “steadfast support.” When Landry was attorney general, his office sued the EPA over its civil rights investigation, arguing that the agency exceeded its authority when it focused on discrimination that allegedly harmed Black residents more, rather than focusing only on intentional discrimination . A federal judge this year granted the state an early victory in that lawsuit.

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