From: Diwata Fonte, The Fresno Bee
Published September 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Plastics firm tries again for recycling plant in Kings County, CA

A pioneering plastics company will return to step one on its proposed Hanford project, a recycling plant that is both praised and criticized for its potential environmental impacts.

Plastic Energy-Hanford plans to resubmit an application to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District after its authorities-to-construct permit was suspended last month, air district officials said.

Plastic Energy plans to be the first American company to melt postconsumer plastic such as take-out containers and packing peanuts -- most of which ends up in landfills -- into low-sulfur diesel fuel.

"The reason they did that was that they were proposing to change the proposal," said Rick McVaigh, permit services manager for the district, who received notice of the decision last month.

"If they want to propose something different than what they originally proposed, then they have to reapply. We have to know what they're proposing before we can evaluate (the company's impacts)."

Henry Dwyer, president of Plastic Energy, could not be reached to comment Wednesday or Thursday. The company planned to lease space from the Kings Waste & Recycling Authority in Hanford and hoped to start construction this fall.

McVaigh said an Aug. 24 letter indicated that the company's current plans are significantly different from the ones approved by the air district in November 2002. The company plans to use a turbine, rather than piston engines, and is reducing the number of plastic melters from three to one, he said.

Plastic Energy officials also gave more details on how they would test for toxic emissions and monitor their plastic-sorting process, notably to keep out polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, because its chlorine can cause air pollution problems.

But McVaigh said a question remains regarding the emissions from gas, similar to natural gas, that is produced from the plastic-recycling process.

"It's my understanding that they're still planning to burn that in one of the heaters in the plastic recycling line," he said.

According to Don Hunsaker, plan development supervisor for the air district, those changes and the company's plans to resubmit a proposal invalidate the district's previous evaluations and authorities-to-construct permit. The company would need that permit before Kings County approved a building permit, according to Sandy Roper of the county Planning Department.

Plastic Energy's plans have been a point of contention in Kings County. More than a dozen community members and environmental activists protested the project in August, calling it an "incinerator in disguise," and demanded that the project undergo the public scrutiny of an environmental-impact report.

At the time, Dwyer said the suspension was a technicality, saying the district just wanted to ensure that the company does not process PVC. Dwyer said the company never intended to convert PVC into fuel and had no problem with adding that detail to the permit.

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© 2004, The Fresno Bee, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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