The Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection (DEP) has denied Erie Coke's application to renew its operating permit and has filed an injunction in Erie County Court to shut down the coke production facility for years of environmental violations, the DEP announced Monday.

The DEP said it started to see an increasing number of air quality violations at the plant starting in June 2017.

Erie Coke was ordered by the DEP in Feb. 2019 to complete an investigation into the cause of recent air quality violations, as well as the installation of a back-up hydrogen sulfide removal system to prevent the combustion of coke oven gas.

The plant experiences a large release from a wastewater tank on the property nearly two months later. The DEP estimates more than 30,000 gallons of wastewater were released from the tank.

In May, the DEP placed Erie Coke on its air quality compliance docket for nearly 80 unresolved air quality violations over the past two years. The DEP said its regulations prevent the renewal of Erie Coke's operating permit if the violations were not resolved.

The DEP sent a notice for more than dozen violations in June based on a May inspection.

The environmental agency said it denied Erie Coke's application to renew its operating permit because "Erie Coke has failed to adequately demonstrate an ability or its intent to comply."

The DEP also issued the following statement:

“For more than a decade, DEP has received persistent complaints from the community and has continuously cited Erie Coke for various environmental violations. DEP has given Erie Coke many opportunities to address violations and comply with state and federal laws. Our staff have participated in stakeholder meetings and have worked with the community, elected officials and the company to address issues and concerns,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Unfortunately, the frequency and severity of Erie Coke’s violations have only increased during our review of its permit renewal and the operator has offered no tangible causes for its non-compliance nor viable plans to assure future compliance."

“After careful consideration of Erie Coke’s history of environmental violations and the company’s lack of intention or ability to comply with state and federal laws, DEP has made the rare decision to not only deny the company’s application to renew its operating permit, but also seek a court injunction to shut down the facility.”

City of Erie Mayor Joe Schember said he supports the decision because of environmental and health concerns.

"I'm pleased with the DEP's action," said Schember. "I certainly would prefer Erie Coke be a safe plant where people can work because they do provide good family-sustaining jobs in Erie. But if they're gonna ignore environmental concerns and pollute the air, especially for our east side residents, that's unacceptable."

The plant was nearly shut down in 2010, but a court-ordered settlement was reached, the DEP said. It was required to make certain repairs to its coke ovens, but some have been in use without being rebuilt. Erie Coke also paid a $4 million fine.

Erie Coke owns and operates the foundry coke production facility located at the foot of East Ave. on Erie's bayfront. It has 58 coke ovens, a coke oven battery underfiring system, two boilers, a byproduct tar recovery system and a wastewater treatment system. 35 of the coke ovens were put into operation in 1942, and 23 of the ovens started operating in 1952.

Erie News Now just wrapped up a week-long series taking an in-depth look at the plant's operations.

Erie Coke: Benefit or Burden?

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