The immediate reaction to the closing of the Shenango Inc. coke works on Neville Island was uniform — shock and surprise. But opinions quickly, and predictably, diverged after that, depending on one’s take on the facility.
Environmentalists and neighbors who routinely criticize the plant’s air pollution are no doubt pleased, while the facility’s 173 workers, only days before Christmas, have to feel devastated.
DTE Energy Corp., Shenango’s Detroit-based owner, did not blame the coming mid-January shutdown on enforcement efforts aimed at its chronic inability to meet clean-air standards. The statement issued by Ronald Burnette, DTE’s director of steel, said that “global overcapacity in the steel industry and international trade issues have reduced the demand for our product.”
That’s unfortunate because DTE had invested $22 million in the plant since purchasing it in 2008, and another $41 million in spending was planned. Despite the improvements, the industrial site was still subject over the years to multiple consent decrees with federal and Allegheny County regulators. DTE was in near-constant hot water for failures to comply and in April 2014 it was hit with a $300,000 civil penalty and a requirement to make $300,000 in plant alterations.
The Post-Gazette and others in the community would have preferred that the facility, which produces more than 300,000 tons of coke per year, had gotten its emissions under control and stayed in operation. But its parent company, with reported 2014 assets of $28 billion and net income of $911 million, felt the Pittsburgh-area subsidiary could no longer survive.
The idle plant may be good for the air quality of people throughout the Ohio River corridor, but it’s terrible news for many steelworker families.