Thursday, March 31, 2016
By Christine Haines
A Mon Valley industrial site and a statewide environmental group are negotiating to resolve perceived environmental issues instead of having the issues settled in court.
PennEnvironment had filed a suit against ArcelorMittal Monessen in 2015 alleging that the company has at times failed to operate the desulfurization plant to remove hydrogen sulfide from the coke oven gas.
ArcelorMittal is required to run the desulfurization plant when making coke, according to its operating permit.
ArcelorMittal Monessen, which produces coke and related by-products, and PennEnvironmental have asked a U.S. District Court magistrate in Pittsburgh to stay all activity in the case until September, allowing them to work on a solution without court intervention during that time. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy granted the stay, saying case is administratively closed and attorneys will need to file a motion to lift the stay if the case is to be reopened.
The initial court filing documents numerous citizen complaints made to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding noxious odors coming from the plant from April 2014 through September 2015. The complaints came from Donora, Monessen, Monongahela and Carroll Township. One citizen complaint said the odor, which others described as a combination of rotten eggs and burned rubber, on a scale of 1 to 10, was a 20.
According to the request for the stay, the DEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have ordered ArcelorMittal Monessen to conduct specific investigations and tests at the Monessen Coke Plant relevant to the violations alleged in the complaint. The results of those investigations and tests will not be available until May or June.
A stay of the litigation will allow time for PennEnvironment, ArcelorMittal Monessen and the agencies to each review the results of the agency-ordered testing and investigations before initiating substantive discussions regarding resolution of the alleged violations.
As a condition of the stay, ArcelorMittal will provide the environmental group with copies of the reports it submits to the DEP and the EPA and will allow PennEnvironment and its expert to inspect the plant and to observe procedures.
According to the company’s web site, the plant employs 155 hourly employees and 23 salaried employees in the production of coke and related by-products.
In its suit, PennEnvironment identifies itself as having more than 11,000 members, including 194 in Washington and Westmoreland counties.