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Firm to pay $2.1 million, cut emissions

Shenango agreement settles coke plant suit

Saturday, March 04, 2000

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The government has been trying to cut the pollution spewing from stacks at Shenango Inc.'s Neville Island coke plant for more than 20 years.

Maybe a third court action will be the charm.

In a consent decree lodged in federal court in Pittsburgh, the Terre Haute, Ind.-based company yesterday agreed to pay a $2.1 million fine and to make changes in its operation to reduce sulfur and visibility-reducing air emissions.

"This settlement appropriately penalizes Shenango for past violations and requires the company to undertake substantial corrective action," said Bradley Campbell, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator. "These requirements will ensure that emissions from the plant are within legal limits that are protective of human health and the environment."

The 70-page agreement will settle a Clean Air Act lawsuit filed in September by the EPA and Allegheny County, which charged that the company violated a 1993 consent decree requiring it to clean up the coke operation.

The 1993 agreement was needed when Shenango failed to reduce air pollution as promised in a 1980 federal consent decree.

The latest EPA lawsuit had sought penalties, stipulated in the 1993 consent decree, of $3.2 million, for air quality violations on more than 1,250 days from August 1993 through April 1999, plus interest.

The decree, signed by the county, the EPA and Shenango, was presented to U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose. After a 30-day public comment period, she will hold a hearing to finalize and sign it.

Under the agreement, Shenango must make extensive improvements to its sulfur control system, monitor emissions daily, and immediately fix any conditions causing it to exceed pollution standards.

Airborne sulfur compounds can aggravate respiratory problems, particularly in people with asthma and chronic bronchitis, and are a precursor of acid rain, which can damage lakes, aquatic life, plant life and property.

The fine contained in yesterday's decree is in the midrange of penalties the EPA has sought against steelmaking facilities nationwide for air pollution violations. It will be split evenly between the federal government and the county's Clean Air Fund.

At the time the suit was filed, the company had offered to pay more than $1 million to settle the government's claims. "We spent a good part of a year working on an agreement and we're happy this is resolved," Daniel Demoise, Shenango executive vice president, said.

Pollution from the coke plant has been chronic for most of the last 20 years, but the issue became more contentious early last year when Shenango announced that it planned to partner with Antaeus Energy of Wakefield, Mass., to build a new $100 million coking facility next to its existing plant.

Environmental groups, including the Group Against Smog and Pollution and Clean Water Action, actively opposed the project, saying Shenango shouldn't be permitted to expand until it meets sulfur and airborne particle standards at the existing 56-oven coke battery.

The deal fell apart when Antaeus went bankrupt.

Shenango has spent millions attempting to control pollution at the Neville coke operation but has experienced frequent equipment failures.

It spent $1.5 million over the last year and a half, and over the last nine months has been more successful in controlling sulfur dioxide emissions, Allegheny County Health Department officials said.

Demoise said the company, which employs 200 and annually produces 360,000 tons of coke for use as fuel by steelmakers, will spend $500,000 in May for equipment to control sulfur emissions.

Attorney William Luneburg, representing GASP and Clean Water Action, asked Ambrose to consider amendments to the consent decree that would commit about $400,000 of the fine to environmental projects benefiting the residents of Neville Island and surrounding communities.

The proposed projects include an environmental audit of Shenango; an enhanced air monitoring network on Neville Island; a citizen air emissions education program; and a citizen oversight panel to monitor Shenango operations.

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