Erie Coke Corp. has appealed a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection order in February that the company take steps to correct a variety of pollution violations that DEP said it found. The company’s appeal argued that DEP’s order is “unreasonable,” among other things.
What’s unreasonable is that DEP has been wrangling with Erie Coke for years over air quality and other issues related to the plant at the foot of East Avenue. And that nearby residents, and indeed the entire community, have been exposed to the health ramifications of the company’s checkered (at best) environmental record.
Many of the violations listed in DEP’s February order were similar to those addressed in a 2010 consent decree between the company and DEP. The requirements of that consent decree were supposed to eliminate those issues to protect the public health and the environment.
But the problems continue. Twice in March an above-ground holding tank at the plant failed, leaking wastewater that a DEP field order said “contains, among other regulated substances, benzene and naphthalene, ammonia and cyanide.”
And this month, DEP notified Erie Coke of several violations of its operating permit that the agency claims occurred between Jan. 10 and March 27. DEP’s findings included leaks, issues with control equipment, and contaminants found on the ground near the East Avenue Boat Launch.
All of this comes as Erie Coke has an application pending to renew its Title V operating permit. The company has a right to due process, but its record shows why that application merits the strictest possible scrutiny.
We commend DEP regulators for their active and ongoing oversight of the plant. Given the company’s compliance history, they should not let up.
It’s welcome also that grassroots environmental activists have mobilized in response to concerns about Erie Coke’s operations and their effect on public health. Hold Erie Coke Accountable is an Erie nonprofit led by Sister Pat Lupo, a longtime environmental activist, and Mike Campbell, a science and biology professor at Mercyhurst University.
HECA is teaming up with a Pittsburgh area environmental outfit, Group Against Smog and Pollution, to hold a public update on Erie Coke’s environmental impact and related matters on Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at East Middle School, 1001 Atkins St.
Erie Coke’s record of violations also has drawn the attention of elected officials in the region. Erie City Council voted unanimously on April 3 to send a formal letter of concern to DEP, and Erie County Council is expected to follow suit at its meeting on Tuesday.
All involved should sustain the pressure to ensure that if Erie Coke is to continue operating, it does so in a safe manner that ends its record of chronic violations. That’s long overdue.