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Belmont County residents meet with state over cracker plant

COLUMBUS — Residents concerned about a proposed ethane cracker plant in Belmont County have met with state officials.

The meeting with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and staff from Gov. Mike DeWine was over the project proposed by PTT Global Chemical America and Daelim Industrial Co. Ltd. The proposed site is the former R.E. Burger coal-fired electric generating station at Dilles Bottom, south of Shadyside along the Ohio River, that was operated by First Energy.

“The facility has been issued water pollution discharge permits by the OEPA despite concerns about pollution in the Ohio River, which more than 5 million people depend on for clean drinking water,” a release from the group said. “The OEPA issued these permits without testing existing levels of toxic chemicals in the Ohio River, leaving the public in the dark about additional pollution from the proposed facility. Recent testing by the Environmental Working Group has revealed that both Cincinnati and Columbus already have dangerous levels of ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS in their drinking water.”

The plant would separate ethane in natural gas for the production of plastic.

DeWine has met with representatives of PTT, but thus far has not met in person with concerned residents. The group presented the OEPA and governor’s staff with letters Wednesday stating their concerns and requests.

“One goal of our meeting with Gov. DeWine’s staff today was to directly ask the governor to pull his support of the (ethane cracker plant) proposed for Belmont County,” said Bev Reed, a resident of Bridgeport.

“As a Belmont County citizen and young person, I feel deeply that investing in more fossil fuel extraction and plastics right at this moment in time when we should be divesting from both is a terrible mistake,” she said. “Gov. DeWine should represent his constituents in Ohio rather than major overseas corporations and pull his support of this project.”

DeWine’s office declined to comment on the meeting, deferring to the OEPA.

“The regulatory agencies in Ohio are promoting corporate interests over the people’s health and environmental safety. Time and again, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have let Ohioans down and left us to wallow in industrial filth,” Jill Hunkler, a resident of the Barnesville area, said.

Laurie Stevenson, director of the Ohio EPA, was among officials meeting with the group. Ohio EPA media relations Manager James Lee said the agency will enforce the conditions of permits that were granted for the project and will keep the pubic informed.

“Today, Director Stevenson met with several concerned Ohio River residents and listened to their concerns regarding the potential PTTGCA Petrochemical Complex,” Lee wrote. “While the Agency issued legal permits to PTTGCA in 2018 for the project, the director offered the opportunity for the group to connect with agency technical experts for more information about data and modeling that went into permitting decisions. Further, it’s important to understand that Ohio EPA received and utilized data from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission as part of the permit review process. At today’s meeting, the Director also talked with the group about the Agency’s responsibility to enforce its permits if this project moves forward and our intention to provide transparency for monitoring data that we receive.”

But representatives from the group said they were not satisfied with the information they received.

“I appreciate the opportunity to express our concerns about this petrochemical buildout, and I’m hopeful this will lead to a meaningful and continuing dialogue with our decision-makers,” Martins Ferry resident Barb Mew said.

“As a materials scientist with knowledge of the trends in both the energy sector and plastics, I cannot foresee long-term success in a global scale plastic production investment like the cracker plant,” said Vincent DeGeorge, a materials scientist and president of Barnesville-based Ohio Valley Peace. “An investment of this proposed cracker plant’s magnitude into fossil fuels and plastics, precisely as domestic and global markets are transitioning away from both, will only compound the economic and environmental problems with which our region and world are already struggling.”

PTT and Daelim in response to the meeting said the companies are committed to protecting the environment and intend to comply with the project permits as they work toward a final investment decision.

“The State of Ohio and the federal government have completed their environmental review of the proposed PTTGCA project, which resulted in the issuance of all necessary permits. This process ensures the health and safety of the surrounding communities and the environment, including the air and water,” company spokesman Dan Williamson said in an email.

The project will create infrastructure and use technology to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including wetlands and rivers, he said.

“This project’s affiliated companies in Thailand and South Korea have demonstrated commitments to environmental protection, including protection of our waterways,” he said. “We will build upon this commitment in the United States as this project moves forward.”

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