Atofina Chemicals plans to close production facility in Wichita, Kan.

At the end of June, Atofina Chemicals will shut down production at its Wichita plant and move those jobs overseas. It's planning to then ship the chemicals it makes for use in home air conditioners back to the United States for sale.

Now, local politicians and representatives of Vulcan Chemicals are trying to stop the French company from shutting down the Wichita plant, which they say will eliminate 76 jobs and cost the local economy $25 million a year.

They also are putting pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to change some of its policies, which they say allow foreign companies to profit by eliminating U.S. jobs.

Jane Castille of Atofina said the company's decision is purely economic. Its Wichita plant just south of 55th Street South and Ridge Road is obsolete. The company can make the chemicals cheaper at its plants in France and China, she said.

Atofina is one of only four companies in the United States that is allowed, under an international agreement, to make or import a refrigerant known as R-22.

R-22 is used as the coolant in home central air conditioning units. It is also used to cool display cases in grocery stores.

Atofina makes the refrigerant in Wichita and at its plants in France and China.

Companies in the United States can't make or import R-22 or other refrigerants without permission from the EPA, which tightly controls the manufacture, importation and use of refrigerants because of concerns that the chemicals are eating a hole in the earth's protective ozone layer.

That permission is granted in the form of credits, which are based on the amounts that the companies manufactured in the United States in the early 1990s.

Three companies -- Honeywell, Dupont and Atofina -- hold the majority of the credits for this country.

Under EPA rules, Atofina will control about 20 percent of the R-22 refrigerant market.

If Atofina is going to take the jobs away from Kansas and the United States, then the EPA should take away the credits that would allow it to sell the chemicals into the U.S., according to Rep. Todd Tiahrt.

Tiahrt and Kansas senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts have written to EPA head Christie Whitman, complaining that the proposed EPA regulations encourages companies to move jobs overseas.

Alice Law of the EPA office in Kansas City, Kan., said the agency has not announced a decision.

In the past, EPA has been reluctant to interfere in markets, saying it didn't want to be in the business of creating winners and losers, according to George Schutzer, a Washington lawyer, who specializes in environmental law.

In addition, officials for Vulcan Chemicals, which sells feedstock chemicals to Atofina, worry that as refrigerant supplies are limited, prices for frozen foods and cooling homes will increase.

And, they say, the French government, which owns part of Atofina, will help set those prices paid by U.S. consumers.

They worry that rather than selling the plant, the company will tear it down to eliminate competition from other chemical producers.

Castille said that Atofina has not made a decision on what to do with the plant.

600450 Atofina Chemicals plans to close production facility in Wichita, Kan.

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