Environmental group threatens to sue EPA over coke permit

A train carrying molten iron passes in front of Blast Furnace No. 7 at ArcelorMittal in East Chicago. An environmental group is suing the EPA over how it's handling an air permit renewal for a coke contractor to the mill.

The Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago is threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how it's handling an air permit renewal at the Indiana Harbor Coke Co. in East Chicago.

A subsidiary of Sun Energy, the company supplies coke for the blast furnaces at the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill in East Chicago. The environmental group, which was active in dealing with the petcoke piles on the banks of the Calumet River in Chicago, has wanted an "environmental justice analysis" since the EPA has cited the contractor seven times since 2010 for violations such as releasing 160 excess tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

Southeast Environmental Task Force attorney Keith Harley sent a notice of intent to sue to the U.S. EPA Administration for failing to respond to the group's petition in July asking the EPA to object to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's proposed air permit renewal.

The EPA did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Government agencies and other organizations often do not comment on pending litigation.

Harley wrote a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt giving notice for a lawsuit that charges his agency failed to respond to the petition within 60 days, as required by law.

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"The undersigned public health, environment and conservation organization intends to file a citizen suit against you in your official capacity as administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency for your failure to perform a non-discretionary duty as mandated by Section 505 of the Clean Air Act," Harley wrote in the letter.

The group wants the EPA to review the permit for the facility at 3210 Watling St., which supplies the Indiana Harbor mill with a purified version of coal that's burned in blast furnaces to make the iron that's eventually converted into steel. The Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago points to earlier EPA findings that the contract emitted more coke-oven gases than allowed multiple times over the last several years.

"In its compliance report for the third quarter of 2016, IHCC lists a total of 1,900 deviations," the environmental group said in its petition. "Coke oven door leaks contribute to the bulk of the deviations, with 1707 door fires reported this quarter."

The Southeast Environmental Task Force said such emissions are concerning because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Joseph L. Block Jr. High School, East Chicago Central High School, East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy, Jeorse Park on the lakefront, Callahan Park, Nunez Park and other public recreational areas.


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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.