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Monroe Council Statement on SunCoke Lawsuit
Friday, August 28, 2009 3:36:15 PM - Monroe Ohio

About the Coke Plant: In 2008, SunCoke Energy proposed to build a metallurgical coke plant on property next to the City of Monroe.   If built, the SunCoke facility would manufacture coke, a refined form of coal used by steel mills, by heating coal to very high temperatures in 100 coke ovens.  The coke plant would also include large outdoor coal piles and coal and coke handling operations.

Environmental and Health Impacts of the Coke Plant: According to SunCoke’s 2008 permit application to Ohio EPA, operation of the coke plant would release thousands of tons of harmful pollutants into the air of Butler County each year. For example, the coke plant would emit as much as 2,700 tons per year of various pollutants, including 439 tons per year of particulate matter and over 2,000 tons per year of other pollutants that form fine particles in the air.  

Butler County currently is not in compliance with the national air quality standard for fine particulate matter. Breathing air containing particulate matter at levels above the national ambient air standard can increase the occurrence of cancer, respiratory disease, and lung damage. The elderly, children, and people with chronic lung disease tend to be especially sensitive to the effects of particulate matter.  Given the impacts of these and other emissions from the coke plant, Monroe is concerned that the coke plant will adversely affect the health, operations, facilities, and general well-being of Monroe and its residents and employees.

Monroe also recognizes that the coke plant may bring economic benefits to the Middletown area, including new jobs and support to the AK Steel Middletown Works.   But simply put, no business is above the law. If SunCoke would site its project responsibly and comply with applicable air pollution laws for the protection of the public, the City of Monroe would have no objection to the Coke plant.

The Coke Plant and AK Steel Fought to Avoid Necessary Pollution Controls for the Coke Plant: The amount of annual emissions from the coke plant makes it a “major stationary source” that is subject to tough pollution control requirements under the federal Clean Air Act. Yet in the initial EPA permitting of the coke plant in 2008, SunCoke, with the assistance of AK Steel, sought to evade those pollution control requirements. They argued that the new coke plant emissions should be offset, or reduced, by certain emission reductions at the AK Steel Middletown Works. However, most of the claimed emission reductions occurred more than 5 years before the SunCoke permit was issued, and they were unrelated to the coke plant. Furthermore, AK Steel and SunCoke overstated the amount of those emission reductions and failed to take into account other increases in AK Steel emissions that occurred during the same period of time.

In November of 2008, Ohio EPA issued the Permit to Install requested by SunCoke. That permit did not require compliance with the stringent Clean Air Act requirements known as “New Source Review.” As a result, Ohio EPA allowed the coke plant to use air pollution controls that are inferior to those at other coke plants recently built in Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S.   But even after the Permit to Install was issued, U.S. EPA continued to review whether the permit complied with the Clean Air Act. That review continued until January of 2009, when a senior U.S. EPA official, on the afternoon of his final day before leaving office, wrote  a short memo stating simply that U.S. EPA had “no further comments on this matter.” The memo did not discuss whether, or why, U.S. EPA concluded the Permit to Install met Clean Air Act requirements.

As a Result of Monroe’s Legal Actions, SunCoke is Now Taking Steps to Comply with Air Pollution Laws: Monroe filed an appeal of the November 2008 Permit to Install, as well as an appeal of the decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board concerning the coke plant. Then in January of 2009, Monroe also filed a federal lawsuit to halt construction of the coke plant until SunCoke complied with New Source Review.  

These legal actions have been expensive. SunCoke, AK Steel, and the Machinist’s Union have opposed Monroe’s three lawyers with a combined team of more than 20 lawyers from six major law firms. But there have been positive results since Monroe took legal action:

    *     Shortly after the filing of the federal lawsuit, SunCoke voluntarily halted the illegal construction of the coke plant, explaining that the work stoppage was due in part to “economic concerns.”

    *     In April, SunCoke submitted a second application to Ohio EPA, this time requesting the New Source Review permit required by law.

    *     Also in April, U.S. EPA renewed its investigation into AK Steel’s “netting” claims that led to avoidance of New Source Review in the 2008 permit. That investigation is ongoing.

    *     In July, Ohio EPA issued a draft New Source Review permit for public review and comment. Among other things, the draft New Source Review permit requires the coke plant to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 400 tons/year.

On August 20, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed Monroe’s federal lawsuit. The Court decided that it should abstain from involvement in this dispute because the State of Ohio is reviewing the appeal of the November 2008 minor source permit. The Court did not rule on the merits of Monroe’s claims, and the Court’s ruling does not affect Monroe’s pending permit appeal. Monroe will continue to take the steps necessary to ensure that SunCoke complies with applicable laws and to protect the health, operations, facilities, and overall welfare of the City, its residents, and its employees.

Next Steps: The City of Monroe is reviewing the draft New Source Review permit and will submit comments to Ohio and U.S. EPA as appropriate.   

Ohio EPA has scheduled a public hearing and information session on the draft New Source Review permit for Wednesday, September 2, at Miami University Middletown, Campus Community Center, Johnston Hall, Room 142, 4200 E. University Blvd., Middletown, Ohio. The information session will commence at 6:30 pm and the public hearing will follow immediately to accept comments on the draft New Source Review permit. All interested persons are entitled to attend or be represented and give written or oral comments on the draft New Source Review permit at the hearing. Written comments on the draft permit must be received by the close of business on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. Written comments may be submitted at the hearing or sent to: Mike Ploetz, Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services, 250 William Howard Taft Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45219-2660. Copies of the draft New Source Review permit, permit application and technical support information may be reviewed by accessing the Ohio EPA web page at the following web address: (see featured topics).

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