A year-old air-pollution agreement filed in Maryland U.S. District Court between American Sugar Refining, Inc. (ASR), the company that owns the Domino Sugars factory in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been adjusted because the prescribed technological fix has not been working as anticipated, according to court documents and an ASR vice president.
City Paper emailed and phoned the EPA's attorney, Katherine Vanderhook-Gomez of the U.S. Department of Justice's Environmental Enforcement Section, in an attempt to ask her to shed light on the matter but did not hear back from her by press time. But Gaston Cantens, a vice president of Florida Crystals-which owns ASR, which owns the Baltimore plant-says the factory overall "has already achieved the emissions levels that [the EPA] wanted us to meet, so we've accomplished what the goals were" under the agreement.
The factory's air-pollution permit had been the subject of a behind-the-scenes dispute since 2009-until last May, when the quarrel emerged publicly with a proposed settlement filed in federal court by the EPA and ASR (The News Hole, May 11, 2012 ). The EPA contended that ASR was liable for per-diem penalties dating back to 1997 over violations of the Clean Air Act permit for the factory's steam-producing boilers. The EPA accused ASR of operating more boilers at once than the factory was allowed to under its permit. ASR disagreed.
The two set aside their differences and avoided costly litigation by filing in court an agreement, known as a consent decree, that ASR would pay a $200,000 fine and come into compliance on its permit by upgrading its boiler technology to emit less pollution. ASR agreed to install what the consent decree calls "Ultra-Low NOx Burners," which reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides, on the plant's boilers. At the end of June last year, U.S. District Judge James Bredar approved the consent decree, and the case was closed.
Since then, the schedule of improvements has been met, according to court documents. But in January, an unexpected snag arose, prompting the EPA and ASR together to file a motion asking Bredar to allow them to modify the consent decree. The filing explains that, while ASR had installed the required burners on four boilers as required, emissions data from their operation suggests that installing the burner on the fifth and final boiler "will result in an increase" in nitrogen oxide emissions "rather than a decrease." Thus, the EPA and ASR asked for more time, until May 1, to study the problem and come up with a solution.
Cantens says the final boiler's upgrade has been delayed because the burners already installed "aren't working up to the manufacturer's specifications, and we're just trying to get them working right before we install" the last one.
The Domino Sugars factory is a surviving vestige of Baltimore's erstwhile working waterfront, a fading memory made the more so by the departure three years ago of Moran Towing's tugboats from the dilapidated Recreation Pier at the foot of Broadway in Fells Point. Yet tugboats still guide oceangoing ships in and out of the Inner Harbor to berth next to the factory, which almost always has a foreign-flagged vessel next to it, as it has for nearly a century now. When the scent of sugar borne on the breezes hits people's olfactories or they see the factory's iconic red-lit sign, they are pleasantly reminded that there's still one old factory in Baltimore's Inner Harbor that's still making stuff. And wherever there's industry, there are pollution permits that need to be enforced-as has been the case with ASR's consent decree with the EPA.