State regulators and community members say enough is enough.
Ed Nesselbeck was feeling optimistic about Erie Coke Corp.’s prospects just over a week ago.
Nesselbeck, the company’s new environmental director, pledged in an exclusive interview with the Erie Times-News on June 27 that the coke plant could be brought into full compliance by the end of 2019.
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection threw the plant’s future into doubt when it denied Erie Coke’s application to renew its operating permit and filed a complaint in Erie County Court to shutter operations there. Erie Coke is challenging both actions.
In an interview after the DEP’s announcement, Nesselbeck said the decision was “a shock” — but that he believes Erie Coke’s reputation for breaking promises played a role.
“Clearly, the DEP is a little wary of Erie Coke, when they hear ‘Yeah, we’re going to fix that,’” he said. “I think they’ve been hearing that for many years.”
He still hopes to reverse that legacy in his new role, he said. The plant is still working toward achieving compliance by the end of the year, he said, despite the ongoing legal proceedings that could end in its shutdown.
“There’s a new regime and attitude with Erie Coke, one based on transparency,” he said. Nesselbeck said he “is looking forward to public meetings and discussions to open ourselves up to the community so that we’re not this big mystery anymore.”
That would be a radical change in Erie Coke’s approach to public relations, which for years has been to ignore or refuse requests for comment from the news media.
But are the changes too late? Mike Campbell, a co-leader of the community organization Hold Erie Coke Accountable, thinks so.
“They’ve had all the time in the world over the past nine years to continue to upgrade that facility and make it work right, but they seem to have been complacent with just continuing to violate the terms of their permit,” Campbell said.
“If they were serious about making that place work right, they should have been acting on this many years ago, not just now because they’re threatened with being shut down,” he said.