State regulators move to shut down Erie Coke

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection filed an injunction in Erie County Court to close 125-employee plant.

For years, Erie Coke Corp. has rebuffed environmental regulators’ efforts to bring the troubled plant at the foot of East Avenue into compliance with state and federal law.

The coke plant and the emissions floating from its eye-catching smokestack on Erie’s bayfront have become the focus of local activists’ push for greater enforcement of environmental rules.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection decided Erie Coke has had enough chances to change.

In a move that is rare — but not unprecedented in Erie Coke’s history — the DEP denied the company’s application to renew its operating permit and asked a judge to order the plant’s closure.

“For more than a decade, DEP has received persistent complaints from the community and has continuously cited Erie Coke for various environmental violations. DEP has given Erie Coke many opportunities to address violations and comply with state and federal laws,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in the statement.

“After careful consideration of Erie Coke’s history of environmental violations and the company’s lack of intention or ability to comply with state and federal laws, DEP has made the rare decision to not only deny the company’s application to renew its operating permit, but also seek a court injunction to shut down the facility.”

The decision comes after an Erie Coke official told the Erie Times-News that the company recently hired a slate of new managers to handle environmental compliance issues. The plant employs 125 people for the production of coke, a key ingredient in the steel-making process.

Ed Nesselbeck, the company’s new environmental director, said Monday that the company is reviewing the DEP’s statement.

“Our attorneys are involved,” he said.

The DEP late Monday morning filed the injunction in Erie County Court to shut down the plant. If a judge grants the injunction, the plant would have to close and Erie Coke officials would be required to submit a plan to safely shut down the battery of coke ovens and other parts of the facility.

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