Lawmaker pushed on legislation that affects Augusta Olin plant

Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 9:59 AM
Last updated 10:35 AM
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A Georgia Congressman’s plan to amend legislation that would phase out mercury-based technology at four chlorine factories – including the Olin Corp. plant in Augusta – was placed on hold this week after local environmentalists mounted a telephone and e-mail campaign opposing the action.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said the planned amendment had been prepared by U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., and would have extended until 2017 the deadline for such factories to either convert to a mercury-free manufacturing process or close. The original legislation in House Resolution 2190 imposed a 2012 deadline.

She estimated that 60 people or more contacted Mr. Barrow’s office to express concerns over the matter.

“The bill was pulled for markup so that other members of the committee have more time to consider the bill,” Mrs. Bonitatibus said. “We definitely succeeded in making them think about the bill, so that's good.”

Jane Brodsky, Mr. Barrow’s communications director, said in an e-mail today that the decision not to mark up the bill was unrelated to the calls to his office.

“Congressman Barrow’s office has received calls on both sides of the issue, and he plans to work towards a bill that strikes the right balance between doing the right thing by the environment and protecting jobs in his district,” she said. “He has submitted an amendment that he thinks would accomplish those goals, and will decide if and when the (Energy & Commerce) committee chooses to conduct their markup whether or not he will offer it for consideration.”

The original bill, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., would also affect an Olin plant in Charleston, Tenn.; a PPG Industries facility in Natrium, W.Va.; and the Ashta Chemicals plant in Ashtabula, Ohio.

Such factories make chlorine by pumping saltwater through a "cell" of mercury to create a chemical reaction. The process causes mercury to be released into the environment, where it can accumulate in fish and be passed to humans.

Mrs. Bonitatibus said discussions are under way for a similar amendment that would extend the compliance deadline just two years – until 2014.

“We could live with that one,” she said. “Two more years is reasonable. We did not want to wait four more years.”

Olin Corp. officials have said the company has no plans – and sees no need – to invest in a conversion program for the Augusta plant, which could cost an estimated $90 million.

In August, however, Olin announced a $150 million bond issue to generate capital to help the company strengthen its "long-term liquidity given uncertain economic times."

The prospectus for that bond issue specifically mentioned the pending legislation among factors that could influence the company's financial health, saying it "would ban the production of chlor alkali products using mercury cell technology two years from the date it is enacted into law."

The prospectus noted that the Augusta plant and a second mercury cell plant owned by Olin provide 18 percent of the company's production capacity. "We are closely monitoring the progress of these bills, but it is too soon to estimate the likelihood of enactment and, therefore, to determine what impact there will be on Olin and the chlor alkali industry," the document states.

Mrs. Bontatibus said she hopes the plant can be converted and will remain a major local employer and taxpayer. “We don’t want anyone to lose their jobs, but we do want the plant to do what’s best for the economy and the environment,” she said. “Olin should have seen this coming a long time ago.”

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dashiel
176
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dashiel 10/01/09 - 10:52 am
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Looks as though Ms.

Looks as though Ms. Bonitaibus is going to be an effective guardian. Let's all pay close attention and see whether Congressman Barrow will stand up to big industry. If so, he deserves to continue serving a grateful constituency. If not, he may as well be another Republican slop swiller like the ones now vying to root him away from the trough.

paulwheeler
124
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paulwheeler 10/01/09 - 11:10 am
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So, Olin in Augusta will

So, Olin in Augusta will shuit down in 2012 instaed of 2017.

trailblazin
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trailblazin 10/01/09 - 11:46 am
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MRS. Bonitaibus, I think you

MRS. Bonitaibus, I think you should go the Olin Plant and tell all the workers who earn a living by WORKING that they should have seen this coming. What a joke. The propagrandist from OCEANA and the Riverkeepers don't care about your jobs or your livelihood. "Olin should have seen this coming." Give me a break. They are operating under the current law. You are trying to change to law at your wims. If they really wanted to help change the process at OLIN, instead of raising money to support your attacks against the industry, why not help raise the funds to help the company switch processes or add filters to absorb the mercury. Mrs. Bonitbius, you cannot have it both ways. I'm getting a feeling the Riverkeepers are not about the River, but about their environmental agenda. Rob, I'm a little disappointed that you allowed such a one sided article.

ONLY THE TRUTH
2
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ONLY THE TRUTH 10/01/09 - 12:40 pm
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You sir-trailblazin- are the

You sir-trailblazin- are the person being one-sided! This is more about corporate greed than anything. Olin should already have the engineering complete for the change-over and able to start construction with the new financing.........By the way, don't blame the messengers (Ms. Bonitaibus and Rob Pavey)---as a matter of fact, don't even blame the message---blame tail-dragging.

soldout
1280
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soldout 10/01/09 - 12:47 pm
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We are told the only place

We are told the only place safe for mercury is in your mouth inside your fillings and in your flu shot. Everywhere else it is a great hazard. Something doesn't sound right about that.......

dashiel
176
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dashiel 10/01/09 - 01:08 pm
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NOT poisoning the river is an

NOT poisoning the river is an evil agenda? Oh, that's right, the Taliban doesn't approve of science.

unbiased_propaganda
165
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unbiased_propaganda 10/01/09 - 02:39 pm
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trailblazin - I think you

trailblazin - I think you should go to the thousands of women and children that have been negatively affected by the toxic mercury that the Olin Plant has been emitting into our environment that they should have seen it coming. I agree, WHAT A JOKE! And you want the Riverkeeper to help them raise the funds to switch to a mercury-free process - the same process that numerous other plants have switched to already?!

You sir obviously have no idea what you're talking about. If the Augusta Olin Plant does not switch VERY soon, they will no longer be able to compete with the plants around the nation that have already made the switch. Yes that $90 million looks like a big figure but when you take into account that within 5 - 7 years they will recoup that money and then some.....I don't see what there is to think about. Why don't you try doing some research before you decide to click on an article you're clueless about and start trashing people and organizations you know nothing about.

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