Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 22, 2013

AK Steel to pay $1.65M civil penalty to settle air pollution allegations

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — AK Steel Corp. will pay a $1.65 million civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of air pollution laws that occurred at its now-closed coke plant in Ashland, the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

As part of a settlement reached between the company, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the U.S. government, AK Steel will also spend at least $2 million on two projects to further reduce particulate matter emissions at its Ashland West Works facility. Kentucky will receive $25,000 of the penalty.

The settlement resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, AK Steel’s Title V permit and the Kentucky State Implementation Plan, which occurred while the plant was still in operation. AK Steel closed the coke plant in June 2011 because it was no longer cost competitive because of high maintenance costs and increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

“This settlement holds AK Steel accountable for years of violations at its now closed coke plant in Ashland, said Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“As a result of the agreement, state projects to reduce particulate matter emissions at the Ashland West Works facility will continue to improve air quality for area residents for many years to come.”

“This settlement promotes a healthier environment for our citizens and represents a just resolution of this matter,” said Kerry B. Harvey, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “We are committed to the effective enforcement of the environmental laws designed to protect the health of our people.”

AK Steel said in a statement released Wednesday it “appreciates the cooperation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky during the settlement negotiation process that enabled a portion of AK Steel’s assessed penalty to be applied to environmental improvement projects at the Ashland Works.”

According to the same statement, AK has spent approximately $85 million between 2003 and 2012 on environmental-related capital projects in addition to $1.1 billion to operate and maintain environmental controls combined at its facilities.

AK officials did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday night. The statement also pointed out Wednesday’s settlement was made “without admission of the alleged violations by AK Steel.” 

The consent decree was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. A notice of the lodging will appear in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period before the decree is entered by the court as a final judgement.

The decree will be available for viewing at justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. The document was not immediately available.

Despite Wednesday’s settlement, AK Steel remains under an administrative order issued last fall by the EPA in regard to hazardous waste found in soil and water tested at the facility. The company has submitted a sampling and analysis plan to the EPA, which is under review.

 It is unclear if the settlement also resolves a civil investigation by the DOJ into those alleged violations. Spokeswomen for the EPA and DOJ were not immediately available Wednesday evening.

The Ashland West Works is four miles from the defunct coke plant. The 700-acre steel mill produces carbon and ultra-low carbon steel slabs, and hot dip galvanized and galvannealed coated steels. It employs more than 800.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.