A battle is baking over large, emergency coke gas flares and billowing emissions of black smoke that occurred on four occasions earlier this summer at DTE Energy’s Shenango coke plant on Neville Island.
The Allegheny County Health Department has told the Michigan-based coke maker to fix the electricity supply problems that caused the upset conditions, but Wednesday the company said it couldn’t anticipate the power outages and said it did not violate its air pollution control permit.
“Shenango believes that it has continuously operated all air pollution control equipment in accordance with good air pollution control practices, consistent with manufacturer’s specification, and in a reasonable manner,” Peter Libell, Shenango senior environmental specialist, wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to the health department. “As a result, Shenango believes that the four events identified in the ACHD’s (Notice of Violations) letter do not constitute violations...”
Jim Thompson, the health department’s deputy director of environmental health, said Wednesday he is “frustrated and disappointed” with the company’s response, adding that the department is “reviewing its legal options.”
On Aug. 4, the Health Department issued a notice of violation letter to Shenango, stating that the venting and flaring of raw coke oven gas at the end of May through mid-June was a violation of county air pollution regulations, and asked the company to submit a plan within 30 days to “provide continuous electric power to critical equipment to avoid losing battery pressure control.”
The 53-year-old coke works, which was purchased by DTE in 2008, has a long history of pollution problems. It was in violation of county emissions standards on 330 days in a 432-day period ending Sept. 30, 2013. To settle those violations, DTE agreed to a consent order in April 2014 that required it to pay a $600,000 civil penalty and invest more than $750,000 on equipment to reduce emissions from its 56 coke ovens and quenching tower.
Mr. Thompson said the coke plant’s performance improved following the consent order but has “leveled off” in recent months.
“It’s not normal operations to have the frequency of these types of events that Shenango has been having,” he said. “And it’s not where we believe the compliance should be.”
Don Hopey: 412-263- 1983, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @donhopey.