Opponents of the Tonawanda Coke plant were outside of Department of Environmental Conservation offices in downtown Buffalo Tuesday pushing the department to act on pollution permits for the facility.
The plant is the subject of ongoing enforcement actions and a federal criminal case against the former environmental manager. The DEC says the existing permit will continue until that is concluded.
The manager faces trial in February on charges that he lied about pollution from the plant and failed to operate pollution control equipment properly. EPA forced the company to start operating its pollution control equipment and emit fewer pollutants.
Tuesday's protest was sponsored by the Clean Air Coalition. Program coordinator Rebecca Newberry says enforcement is pushing progress.
"The DEC reported to the community last fall that benzene levels at the air monitor that's closest to the plant have been reduced by 86 percent. The levels are still over the EPA guidelines for what is safe, but that's a huge reduction and we're very encouraged that the enforcement action that has been taken by EPA is helping those levels come down, which ultimately makes the neighborhood safer," Newberry said.
Retired chemical technician Ronald Malec says Tonawanda Coke has to be forced to follow the rules.
"Companies, when they submit their Title V application, say if you let us pollute this much, we can maintain and stay open. All we're asking the companies to do is to maintain their end of the bargain and live up to their own permit," said Malec.
Neighbors say there seems to be less pollution but they say they don't know if there is less production in harsh economic times or a cleaner operation.