Environment

A Louisville chemical plant that emits climate super pollutants has applied for a permit to build new equipment to reduce its carbon footprint, but that equipment will create its own hazardous air emissions.

Earlier this year, Inside Climate News reported the Chemours Louisville Works plant emits more greenhouse gases than all of the cars and light-duty trucks registered in the city combined. 

The plant makes a refrigerant from especially potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). One of the plant’s chemical byproducts, HFC-23, has a warming potential more than 14,000 times that of carbon dioxide, said Matt King, industrial permitting manager with the Air Pollution Control District. 

King said the new equipment will help the chemical plant reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. 

“The plan uses some sophisticated chemistry but it’s basically tightening the system to contain that HFC-23,” King said. 

But the new equipment will create its own emissions, releasing more than 1,600 pounds of chloroform and other hazardous air pollutants into fence-line communities, records show.

Both Chemours and air pollution regulators say the new equipment should reduce overall emissions, including hazardous air pollution, as long as the company stays at its current level of production. 

“But we are not mandating that reduction so we are presenting the increased emissions simply from the new equipment,” King said.  

Chemours spokesperson Thom Sueta said the company plans to use the new equipment to capture HFC-23 compounds and take them out of state for destruction.  

“We would foresee an emissions reduction from this,” he said, adding that he’s not aware of company plans to increase production in the near future.  

The communities that live near the industrial corridor known as Rubbertown already deal with a disproportionate amount of the city’s pollution. Nearly 2,400 people live within a mile of the plant, 62% are people of color and nearly half are low-income, according to an EPA database

“You can’t trade off one bad thing, greenhouse gases, for another bad thing, hazardous chemicals,” said Eboni Cochran, co-director of Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT),

Cochran said it should be the job of the Air Pollution Control District to make sure the pollution doesn’t increase, and if it does, it’s the regulators job to understand the full impacts before issuing a new permit. 

“If Chemours’ plans to increase production, they need to know that before they make any sort of decision on allowing Chemours to do anything,” Cochran said. 

Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District is accepting public comments on the permit application through Dec. 14. 

Last year, Congress passed The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act that directed the Environmental Protection Agency to address hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Back in April, Chemours also announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, in part by improving emissions control technologies. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.