DTE Energy’s Shenango coke plant on Neville Island is back to bad business as usual.
A year and a half ago, the facility’s Michigan-based owners paid a $600,000 fine and committed $750,000 to reducing emissions from its ovens and quenching tower.
It wasn’t exactly a novel development in Shenango’s history — the plant had been the subject of three previous federal consent orders plus one from Allegheny County and a joint order in 2012, all followed up with improvement plans. Each time, the coke works reverted to practices that violated county emissions standards, and the deal signed in April 2014 is proving no different.
This summer, emergency flares and billowing black clouds spewed into the air four times. In each case, Shenango told the county health department, its response to the incidents was appropriate.
On Aug. 4, the health department issued a notice of violation to Shenango, saying that venting raw coke oven gas on four days from May 27 through June 15 was out of compliance with county air pollution regulations. It asked the company to make sure it would have a continuous electrical power supply so the problem will stop.
In a Sept. 8 response, the company said it doesn’t consider the events to be violations, even though one lasted 117 minutes and another, 44 minutes. (The others were short — 14 minutes and six minutes.) Shenango said it has been communicating with Duquesne Light Co. in an effort to improve the reliability of its power supply.
The county health department, for its part, is justifiably unsatisfied with the response. Jim Thompson, its deputy director of environmental health, told the Post-Gazette’s Don Hopey that it is reviewing its legal options.
Allegheny County should not hesitate to use whatever authority it can muster to force Shenango to be a better neighbor. The people who breathe the air it fouls have waited long enough.