Environmentalists file suit against Shenango coke plant

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Promised improvements to the Shenango Inc. coke plant won't be enough to bring emissions in line with laws, an environmental group alleged following its filing of a Clean Air Act lawsuit Thursday.

Just a day after Allegheny County Health Department officials said the long-polluting Neville plant is starting to clean up its act, the Group Against Smog and Pollution sued in U.S. District Court, asking a judge to demand further improvement.

GASP attorney John K. Baillie said the group held off on some potential counts, in recognition of planned improvements to the plant. A month-old deal between the plant's owners and the county, though, won't clear the air, he predicted.

"The measures that they promised to undertake will not stop their violations of the standards about which we sued," he said.

The plant, owned by DTE Energy since 2008, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and consent orders.

From July 26, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013, Shenango violated limitations on "264 separate days," according to GASP. After that period, an unspecified number of further violations occurred, GASP claims, basing that on observations made by its trained smoke readers.

A month ago, the county filed an enforcement action in the Court of Common Pleas that was settled for a $300,000 civil penalty and a $300,000 commitment to other pollution improvements.

A health department official reported Wednesday that Shenango has gone two weeks without violating the items included in the consent decree.

The agreements between Shenango and the county "failed to ensure Shenango's compliance with the applicable limitations" on emissions, according to GASP's lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges violations of limitations on visible emissions from the coke oven doors and the combustion stack, and violations of sulfur content limits. According to the complaint, the court should order Shenango to stop violating the limitations, compel payment of civil penalties and award attorney fees and litigation costs.

Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, a spokesman for DTE Energy, noted that Shenango has pledged to install a shed extension by Thursday, submit to the county a maintenance plan for the bag house by May 31, and upgrade the pushing emission control shed by June 30 -- all designed to reduce emissions, and at a cost of $750,000. He said the improvements are proceeding ahead of schedule.

He did not directly address GASP's lawsuit, but said the company will "continue to have productive conversations with people in the community ... who share our desire to improve environmental performance."

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published May 8, 2014 3:32 PM

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