Tonawanda Coke and DEC postpone discussion of revoking company’s air permits

Oct 10, 2018

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

A public hearing at the State Department of Environmental Conservation office in Buffalo to discuss revocation of Tonawanda Coke’s operating permits ended abruptly Wednesday morning. Within five minutes, lawyers from both sides and a DEC judge agreed to adjourn and pick up again on Friday.

The public hearing came at the request of Tonawanda Coke, in response to a July notice from the DEC that it intended to revoke the company’s federal Title V air permit and state facility permit. The hearing was open to the public, but no comment or participation from those who attended was permitted.

At the request of Tonawanda Coke’s attorneys, and with agreement from attorneys for the DEC, Administrative Law Judge Lisa Wilkinson agreed to a 48 hour adjournment. The hearing is scheduled to continue via conference call at 10 a.m. Friday.

Jackie James-Creedon, a long-time community activist and director of Citizen Science Community Resources, told reporters after the hearing she was surprised by the abrupt ending.

“I don’t want to try to guess what the outcome is,” said James-Creedon. “But, again, we’re optimistic and we will hear more then on Friday. We expect to hear some sort of announcement from DEC.”

WBFO reached out to the DEC to find out if Friday’s conference call will be made public in any way. Acting Deputy Public Affairs Commissioner Erica Ringewald responded with a written statement saying, "DEC remains committed to holding this facility accountable for its actions. The adjudicatory hearing is currently adjourned and DEC cannot comment on the specifics of the ongoing hearing."

Clean Air Coalition of Western New York Executive Director Rebecca Newberry also attended the meeting and expressed frustration for fellow members of the public.

“My concern is for the people who have taken off numerous days of work to come down for a very drawn out proceeding,” said Newberry. “Not just the hearing, but the previous federal proceeding. It’s pretty much par for the course and we’re really seeing this as a blueprint for injustice in our society.”

In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge William Skretny gave Tonawanda Coke an extension on the deadline for a two-million community projects payment. The company now has until November 13th. It’s the last of three fines for a 2013 violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

At the state level, James-Creedon suspects a settlement between Tonawanda Coke and the DEC is in the works. She expressed hopes for the outcome of Friday’s meeting.

“Our community has been saying this for a couple of months now. We want this company gone. They have overstayed their welcome.”

WBFO reached out to the legal firms representing Tonawanda Coke for comment on their intentions for this Friday’s hearing, but has not yet received a reply.