041719 Thermaldyne plant North Line

Calling a Port Allen industrial recycling plant's modified air permit a "colossal bait-and-switch," a lawyer for environmentalists asked a Baton Rouge judge Wednesday to vacate the permit and send it back to a state regulatory agency for more study.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network attorney Clay Garside argued to state District Judge Trudy White that Thermaldyne's modified air permit allows it to release dangerous cancer-causing materials into the environment.

"They don't have to report what they're emitting," Garside charged.

Thermaldyne lawyer Brad Myers labeled LEAN's claims a "red herring" and a "scare tactic" and told the judge the industrial waste reclamation facility recycles materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Myers said the plant is not going to accept chlorinated compounds, meaning they won't be producing dioxins, which is something environmentalists and residents in the nearby communities fear.

"It's not being emitted," he said.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality staff attorney Charlotte Goudeau argued to White that Thermaldyne, which opened in April, has been permitted for four years.

"The facility is not processing hazardous waste," she stressed, adding that DEQ followed all applicable regulations in permitting the plant.

But Garside said Thermaldyne's modified air permit allows the facility to receive "oil bearing hazardous secondary materials," whereas the company said in its original air permit that the plant would process only non-hazardous materials.

"That's why we're here now because they changed the game," he argued. "Anywhere else it would be called hazardous waste."

Goudeau, however, insisted that Thermaldyne is not processing hazardous waste.

"Just saying something is hazardous waste doesn't make it hazardous waste under the law," she told the judge.

Myers later echoed that remark, saying, "We are not recycling hazardous waste under the law."

White took the arguments under advisement and said she hopes to issue a ruling within 30 days.

The $50 million Thermaldyne plant works with oil refineries to receive sludge from the bottom of oil tanks and separates the components to create recyclable products that can be returned to refiners to make products like motor oil, the company has said.

Thermaldyne uses a process called "vacuum-assisted thermal disposition" to extract reusable oil products such as petroleum hydrocarbon based-fuels.

"The definition of what Thermaldyne is doing excludes it from hazardous waste regulations," Myers argued Wednesday.

Myers added that the plant is not an incinerator. DEQ, which has civil and criminal enforcement powers, can inspect the plant without notice, he said.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.