Attorneys for Erie Coke Corp. and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection laid out their arguments for and against allowing the company to continue operating pending the outcome of its Title V permit denial appeal in legal filings this week in advance of its July 10 hearing.
The most recent filings stem from Erie Coke Corp.’s July 3 Petition for Supersedeas, which, if granted, would allow the company to continue operating while legal issues related to DEP’s denial of its air quality operating permit – and an associated appeal – are hashed out.
In the petition, the company argued that, “Unless supersedeas is granted, the denial will permanently destroy Erie Coke’s primary asset – its two batteries of coke ovens – thereby forcing Erie Coke out of business, causing the permanent loss of 137 living-wage jobs, and the Erie economy’s loss of approximately $5 million in annual payroll.”
Erie Coke attorneys also asserted that the company had “already dramatically improved compliance performance since April 2019 – and that being granted supersedeas would allow “Erie Coke’s employees (to be) able to continue implementing and enhancing” compliance measures.
The filing noted that the company had retained a new corporate engineering manager, new corporate environmental director, and new facility environmental manager
A denial, on the other hand, would result in “immediate and irreparable harm.”
Erie Coke Works attorneys wrote:
“Erie Coke will lack authorization for emissions from its coke facility and will, therefore, be required to stop the combustion that keeps its coke ovens hot. The resulting cooling will destroy the coke ovens. Because they are constructed of brick that is maintained at approximately 2,0000 degrees Fahrenheit operating temperature, a coke facility that is allowed to cool loses structural integrity – effectively crumbling – and it cannot thereafter be successfully restarted and operated.”
On Monday, DEP filed its response, asking the EHB to deny Erie Coke’s petition. Attorneys argued that the company could “preserve the integrity of its primary asset through the use of natural gas as a fuel source while the Environmental Hearing Board addresses the merits of this appeal.”
“Any harm that Erie Coke may suffer as a result of the department’s July 1, 2019 denial of (its) application to renew the permit is Erie Coke’s own making.”
DEP counsel said the department notified the company as early as August 2017 and made it clear: Its Title V operating permit would not be renewed without:
installation of backup desulfurization treatment and
an end to the “continuing opacity violations”
Attorneys for the department also took issue with Erie Coke’s self-described compliance improvement.
“It is denied that Erie Coke is making substantial efforts to comply with the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act and the expired permit. Erie Coke continues to operate in a manner that causes pollution in violation of the terms and conditions of the expired permit…Pollution has been observed off-site and has manifested itself in various areas of the City of Erie and Presque Isle Bay.”
Attached to DEP’s response are affidavits from myriad residents who reference:
Smoke from the facility
Black soot-covered cars, boats, and houses near the facility
A metallic burning odors
Rotten egg odors
“These odors and particles have negatively impacted the public’s use and enjoyment of Presque Isle Bay,” DEP asserted.
Attorneys for the department noted that in the second quarter of 2019 alone, DEP’s opacity monitoring documented more than 3,000 minutes of violations at Erie Coke Corp.
“The petition and its supporting documentation actually demonstrate that Erie Coke cannot and will not operate in accordance with the terms and conditions of its expired permit, the Air Act, and the regulations during the pendency of any supersedeas,” DEP attorneys wrote.
Editor’s Note: Here’s associated media coverage from the hearing: