City Council OK’s Erie Coke rebuke

Janice Etchison wanted to make one thing clear to Erie City Council members as she stepped to the microphone.

The concerns that she and others share about how Erie Coke Corp. operates are “not just an eastside issue,” Etchison told council members at City Hall on Wednesday morning. “This is a serious concern for the whole city.”

Etchison, who lives on East Ninth Street, is a member of an Erie community organization, Hold Erie Coke Accountable, that has been closely monitoring environmental regulation issues at Erie Coke, located at the foot of East Avenue.

The group also applauded Erie City Councilwoman Kathy Schaaf, who sponsored a resolution requesting that council send a formal letter to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “regarding the toxic pollution emerging from” Erie Coke’s plant.

That resolution passed 7-0 at council’s regular meeting on Wednesday morning.

Schaaf said she proposed the resolution so that council could take an official stance on Erie Coke’s ongoing regulatory issues.

The DEP in early February issued an administrative order stating it found several ongoing air-quality violations at the Erie Coke plant, including the release of visible emission from its smokestack and coke ovens in amounts that exceed those allowed under the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act.

The plant produces coke that is used to make steel.

The DEP has also ordered Erie Coke to undertake a number of actions to comply with the state’s clean-air regulations and the terms of an operating permit that the company is seeking. Erie Coke, through the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, is seeking to vacate a number of those DEP-ordered requirements, which mandate that the company fix air quality problems at the plant.

The DEP is also investigating a chemical leak reported at Erie Coke’s plant on Sunday. Erie Coke has declined to comment.

“They need to be transparent,” Schaaf said of Erie Coke. “And they need to clean up their act.”

Schaaf said she will forward to DEP a draft of a letter she is writing, and she is asking all of her City Council colleagues to sign it.

Marty Visnosky, past president of the Erie County Environmental Coalition, has voiced concerns about Erie Coke’s operations for more than a decade. He called the plant a “toxic environment” while addressing City Council on Wednesday.

“It’s a health hazard for everyone,” Visnosky said.

By: Kevin Flowers

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