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Shenango coke plant violations trigger U.S. suit

Pollution penalties of $3.2 million sought

Wednesday, September 22, 1999

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Shenango Inc. is facing a federal lawsuit demanding penalties of $3.2 million for violating a 1993 order to clean up air pollution from its Neville Island coke plant.

The amount includes penalties stipulated in a federal consent order for air quality violations on more than 1,250 days from August 1993 through April 1999, plus interest.

"We've had numerous meetings with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Allegheny County since the spring on this matter. We've made progress and I am hopeful we will reach a settlement soon," said Daniel Demoise, Shenango executive vice president for health, safety and environment.

The company has offered to pay in excess of $1 million to settle the claims. In addition to the negotiations over the amount of penalties, a number of technical, pollution-control issues remain unresolved.

The EPA considers $3.2 million to be in the mid-range of penalties that it has sought against steel-making facilities nationwide for air pollution violations.

The lawsuit, which alleges civil contempt against Shenango for violating a 1993 consent order, was filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the EPA on Monday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. The filing came two months to the day after the Group Against Smog and Pollution filed a 60-day notice of intent to file its own lawsuit alleging the coke-maker exceeded sulfur and airborne particle standards repeatedly, without being penalized under the terms of the order.

Pollution from the coke plant has been chronic for more than six years. The issue became more contentious after Shenango announced earlier this year that it planned, in partnership with Antaeus Energy of Wakefield, Mass., to build a new $100 million coking facility next to its existing plant?

"It's about time they did something. Whether it's enough remains to be seen," said William Luneburg, attorney for Gasp and for Clean Water Action, an environmental group that filed its own 60-day notice of intent to sue Shenango last week.

Luneburg said the county imposed only minimal fines on Shenango over the past six years and the EPA never imposed penalties prior to Monday's filing.

"It looks like the government is trying to prevent us from bringing an independent suit," Luneburg said. "We still feel we have many options and we are reviewing them."

Luneburg said Gasp and Clean Water Action could intervene in the government's suit against Shenango, just as Gasp did in a similar government pollution suit against LTV's Hazelwood coke works.

The groups could also pursue independent legal action or do nothing and let the federal government pursue the penalties alone.

"We could sit back and watch the government do it," Luneburg said, "but that's really not an option we're seriously considering."

According to the government's lawsuit, Shenango exceeded sulfur emissions controls on 816 days from August 1993 through 1996, and on 441 days from 1997 through April 1999.

Shenango has spent millions of dollars attempting to control air pollution at its Neville coke operation, which employs 200 and annually produces 360,000 tons of coke for steelmaking.

In recent months it has been more successful in controlling sulfur dioxide emissions, according to Allegheny County Health Department officials.



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