Erie Coke CEO Tells Judge His Employees Average $17 an Hour
A hearing continues before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board with all eyes on Erie Coke. A judge must decide if the plant can stay open while the company appeals the state's denial of Erie Coke's operating permit. The permit was denied after Erie Coke was cited for numerous air pollution violations.
The second day of testimony began with Erie Coke CEO Paul Saffrin taking the stand. He was very blunt. He said the plant would shut down and 137 employees would lose their jobs if Judge Steven Beckman rules against the company.
Saffrin said Erie's Coke's payroll is $5.3 million a year and employees have an average salary of $17 an hour. He testified that Erie Coke had $34 million in sales in 2018 and has the cash flow to make environmental improvements at the plant.
Under questioning from Erie Coke Attorney Paul Stockman, Saffrin said Erie Coke is willing to do whatever is necessary to being the plant into environmental compliance. However, under cross examination by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Attorney Doug Moorhead, Saffrin was asked if Erie Coke could meet the DEP's opacity guidelines for its smokestack. Saffrin said he could honestly answer under oath that no coke plant in the world could meet those requirements. He said it's a very difficult standard to meet.
Also taking the stand was Anthony Nearhoof, the plant superintendent at Erie Coke. Nearhoof told the judge that the pollution violations at Erie Coke happened because the plant lost many experienced people and human error was a factor. He said that problem has been corrected.
Nearhoof was asked what would happen if the plant had to close. He said some of the employees have criminal records and Erie Coke gave them a chance to move in the right direction. He said other companies would probably not give them work if they had to look for other employment.
Also testifying today was one of Erie's Coke's customers. He told the judge that if Erie Coke had to close, and another troubled plant in Alabama closes, there would be only one other producer of foundry coke left in the country. He predicts that coke prices would go up. He called the situation "shocking."