East Chicago facility settles suit over Clean Air Act violations

Cokenergy, SunCoke Energy and its subsidiary Indiana Harbor Coke Co. have reached a settlement including $5 million in penalties with the state and federal governments to clean up operations in East Chicago, resolving a case that involved hundreds of violations of federal pollution standards.

The civil action and consent decree reached by all the parties relate to the Indiana Harbor Coking Facility in East Chicago, which is owned and operated by all three defendants. The defendants are accused of violating state environmental regulations as well as the federal Clean Air Act.

“We fight every day to protect the safety of Hoosiers and their families,” Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in announcing the settlement. “This agreement goes a long way to protect Hoosiers and their families in Northwest Indiana and the East Chicago community.”

According to the original complaint filed jointly by the federal government and the state of Indiana, the coke-making facility violated air pollution control laws for more than decade. These violations include illegal emission of waste gases, lead, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter; not adhering to good air pollution control practices; and failures in monitoring, measuring, recording and reporting of the operation’s performance.

Primarily, the violations relate to leaking coke ovens and excessive bypass venting of hot coking gases directly to the atmosphere, resulting in excess sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and lead emissions from the facility’s equipment. Long-term exposure to coke oven gases can increase the risk of cancer of the lung, trachea, bronchus, kidney, and prostate. Other health effects can include conjunctivitis, severe dermatitis, and lesions of the respiratory and digestive systems.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued Title V Operating Permits to the defendants in 2006. In subsequent years, it issued other Title V permits that were substantially similar to the 2006 permits.

Under the consent decree filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, the defendants will be required to overhaul the facility on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan to curb emissions of brain-damaging lead and lung-damaging soot, sulfur dioxide and volatile chemicals. The ovens in Batteries A, C, and D must be rebuilt or shut down by the end of 2018. In Battery B, the five ovens must be rebuilt and evaluated by April 30, 2018.

In addition, the agreement also includes a civil penalty of $5 million — to be evenly divided between Indiana and the federal government — and the remediation of lead in East Chicago schools, day-care centers and other buildings.

“I’m grateful to have worked with our federal partners to get this issue resolved,” said Bruno Pigott, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “It’s my hope that, now and in the future, this settlement will improve not only the air quality of Northwest Indiana, but also the quality of life for Hoosiers living in East Chicago.”

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period before the federal court can approve it.

Implementation of the consent decree’s requirements will result in estimated annual emissions reductions of 2,075 tons of coke oven emissions, 1,895 tons of sulfur dioxide, 125 tons of particulate matter, 55 tons of volatile organic compounds, and 680 pounds of lead, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“This settlement provides a long-term solution to protect air quality and control emissions, said Thomas Kirsch II, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. “We will continue to work with other agencies to protect Indiana families from environmental harm.”

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