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Shenango Coke Works owner agrees to $225K settlement over air pollution

| Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, 3:30 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
DTE Energy's Shenango coke works on Neville Island emits plumes of steam Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. DTE has started a months-long process to shut down the facility.

Allegheny County Health Department officials announced Tuesday they have settled a dispute related to air pollution complaints at the now-closed Shenango Coke Works on Neville Island.

The county and Shenango Inc. agreed to a consent order that requires the company to pay $225,000 to the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund. Shenango must also forgo nearly 140 tons of air pollution reduction credits that could be transferred or sold in a market where credits “could be worth as much as $2,500 per ton,” according to the health department statement.

The health department says the order settles violations over the last year of Shenango's operations. The department on May 31 assessed a $481,000 penalty against Shenango, accusing the company of violating a 2014 consent order and county pollution rules.

DTE Energy, a Detroit-area electric utility that bought the coke works in 2008, had appealed that penalty assessment. The consent order reached Friday states nothing in the agreement “shall be construed as an admission of liability or an admission of any issue or fact” in the May penalty assessment and a subsequent August enforcement order.

“... Shenango expressly denies any such liability and the legal and factual allegations supporting such claims,” the order states.

A DTE spokeswoman said in a statement: “While we are disappointed with the county's actions, we acted in the best interest of moving the process forward for both parties involved, choosing to resolve the matter amicably.”

The plant distilled coal to produce products like metallurgical coke and tar. DTE shuttered the plant early this year, citing a drop in the demand for coke.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner released an audit in May that she said shows fines assessed through settlements between the county Health Department and companies such as Shenango do little to stop pollution. Shenango previously paid about $1.3 million in fines between 2012 and 2014, according to Wagner's audit.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the health department, said at that time the department was disappointed by Wagner's statements, which “reflect a poor understanding of the processes and procedures for regulating air pollution.”

The health department contended fines are only one part of penalizing companies that pollute, and more than 10 factors are considered when fines are set.

In a statement, officials said the department would “review its penalty calculation to determine whether some or all factors need to be adjusted as recommended.”

The department did not immediately respond to a request for information about the proposed review.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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