Tonawanda News

The Town

June 23, 2013

PATTERN OF POLLUTION

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — Both plants have repeatedly violated governmental regulations, and a familiar Tonawanda face — Kamholz — managed the Erie plant’s environmental compliance for 19 years.

His dealings with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection were just as strained as Tonawanda Coke’s dealings with the New York agency, a review of environmental records shows.

Kamholz left the Erie plant in 2009 after five antagonistic years that were marked by a struggle between Erie Coke and the DEP, as well as residents’ complaints about plant emissions — which allegedly left locals with myriad health problems from headaches to cancer.

The DEP “attempted through several enforcement actions” between 2005 and 2009 “to have Erie Coke comply with state and federal requirements,” John Guth, a DEP Air Quality manager said. “The majority of the violations were based on exceedances of emission limits ... both state and federal requirements.”

Regulators’ repeated attempts to bring the facility into compliance were met with obstinant refusal. Health complaints poured in.

In 2010, the DEP and Environmental Protection Agency filed a federal complaint against the company, and the DEP issued an order to Erie Coke and Crane that revoked their federal operating permit and required the plant to “cease all charging operations” within 48 hours.

Erie Coke challenged that order and brought the matter to court. Crane, who customarily flies under the radar, testified in defense of his company. Although Crane said he can — and has — shut down a plant in one day, he claimed ceasing operations would cause supply problems for his customers in the steel industry.

DEP officials were not persuaded, accusing the company of having no interest in complying with regulations.

But after that hearing, Erie Coke and the agency reached a settlement in June 2010. 

In that agreement, Erie Coke agreed to make more than $15 million in improvements to the facility, including the replacement of and repairs to 53 ovens that are used to burn coal. 

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