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HECA, Community Members Rally Support for DEP’s Enforcement Actions Against Erie Coke Corp.

Photo courtesy of HECA

Members of the community group Hold Erie Coke Accountable rallied alongside concerned residents Monday morning to support the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s aggressive enforcement action against Erie Coke Corp. and to “insist that they not accept a monetary payoff.”

The demonstration took place outside the courthouse where lawyers for DEP and Erie Coke sparred last week over the department’s denial of the company’s air pollution operating permit application.

Those proceedings continued Monday.

It also comes in the wake of news that Erie Coke Corp. made a $3.1 million settlement offer to the DEP—one the department declined to accept. DEP is expected to release today a list of items that would need to be rectified prior to the authorization of any settlement with the coke-making facility.

DEP and Erie Coke also appeared before the Environmental Hearing Board last week, where they argued the merits of allowing the company to continue operating while legal issues related to the department’s permit application denial and associated legal issues are hashed out.

“Erie Coke has operated for years by paying small and large fines and have never fixed their systems to provide a business that is within regs for the long term,” HECA said in a written statement released Monday. “With the news of a proposal for a ‘settlement’ at Erie Coke, we all have to be alarmed and outraged.”

The group said the trust has been lost between the community and the company, which they said, “shreds the idea of truthfulness and ignores the health and harms it has inflicted on the Erie community. Monday is the best day to show our support as the judge may arrive at a decision on the plant operation that day. We must hold Erie Coke accountable!”

HECA leaders said while Erie Coke is publicly claiming that DEP’s denial of the operating permit “willfully ignores Erie Coke’s substantial steps toward improving compliance” the company still hasn’t substantiated those claims.

The group said that Erie Coke has to date failed to:

  • identify the root cause(s) of the violations including the specific cause of the continuing opacity violations;
  • conduct required formal engineering evaluations of pollution-emitting equipment prior to submission;
  • provide compliance plans, maintenance, and repair schedules of pollution emitting equipment;
  • submit inspection/evaluation schedules of pollution emitting equipment in accordance with their existing expired Title V Permit.

“The Erie community is fed up with the smokescreen. No one at Erie Coke should be shocked by the DEP’s refusal to issue a new Title V operating permit,” they said. “HECA is concerned about Erie Coke’s publicly stated intention to invest in all the necessary repairs and maintenance to bring this plant into compliance today.”

The grassroots group also noted that in Erie Coke’s appeal, the company suggested that the community must wait six months or more for the effects of their compliance initiatives to “bear fruit”—which they said is an unreasonable burden to place on a community that has been waiting for decades to be able to open their windows in the summer.

“Well-maintained and properly operated air pollution controls on pollution emitting equipment has the immediate effect of reducing toxic air pollution,” HECA leaders said. “If such controls were actually implemented as they claim, Erie Coke would not have racked up an additional 41 violations since the Feb. 2 Administrative Order. Nor would 123 citizen complaints about Erie Coke’s stench have been filed with the DEP since then. “

As legal proceedings grind on, HECA took issue with arguments presented by Erie Coke attorneys.

Members noted that the company completed a cancer assessment risk—not a comprehensive health assessment.

Group Against Smog and Pollution Executive Director Rachel Filippini said that coke-making facilities and the pollutants they spew present numerous health risks other than cancer.

“The most recent data available from DEP show that Erie Coke is the top emitter of ammonia, benzene, nitrogen oxides, PM 2.5, and sulfur oxides in Erie County,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “These pollutants are associated with myriad health effects including asthma, heart attacks, stroke, and premature death—not just cancer. To suggest otherwise, even by omission, is irresponsible.”

HECA also noted that:

  • No information was provided in the cancer assessment report about how exactly data was collected in August and September 2016 by Erie Coke employees, which immediately raises the possibility (or likelihood) of bias in sampling.
  • Model-selected meteorological data (“Erie surface and Buffalo upper air”) used to calculate pollution concentrations beyond the point of measurements could be unreliable. In fact, Erie Coke’s own expert witness admitted under oath that different wind data would have produced different risk assessment results.

HECA said the group is awaiting information expected to be released today on what measures must be undertaken by Erie Coke to put—and keep—the company in compliance so that it permits application could be (approved?). Members, however, said, “until Erie Coke agrees to pay for independent soil and groundwater testing and to remediate their contaminated site while in operation, HECA believes (its settlement offer) is an empty gesture to the community.”

Editor’s Note: Here’s associated media coverage of the rally and Monday’s hearing news for those following the issue:

 

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