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Environment & Energy

Citing Slow Progress at Shenango Coke Plant, Community Group Resigns

Members of the Neville Island Good Neighbors Working Group are quitting, saying they're frustrated that air pollution caused by a Pittsburgh-area coke plant isn't being fixed fast enough.

“We’re starting to get the feeling that we’re serving as a tool for DET Energy to placate the public rather than addressing the real and compelling regional health concerns,” said group member and Ben Avon Councilman Michael Bett.

Michigan-based DTE Energy Services bought the plant in 2008. The Neville Island community group formed two years ago to push for improvements at the Shenango plant, which has been cited hundreds of times and last year paid $1.75 million to settle federal pollution law complaints dating to 2006. Bett said DTE only addresses issues if they are brought up by regulators.

“Things that we’ve been pushing for such as a larger quench tower with a second level, longer coking times to reduce emissions, capturing the coke gas instead of flaring it off, things like that they haven’t really made much progress on,” Bett said.

Seven of the 10 members of the group resigned, and they delivered a letter to Shenango Tuesday morning. The letter calls on DTE to release a timeline for getting the plant to a minimum of 95 percent compliance with county air regulations. Bett said the facility in April through July the compliancy rate was about 57 percent.

DTE Energy said progress has been made, but major changes can’t happen overnight.

“Certainly that is our goal, to be at 100 percent compliance with all county, state and federal environmental regulations,” said DTE Spokeswoman Randi Berris. “It is an older facility and making those improvements take time. We are working very closely with the county. We have inspectors on-site every day and we work with county officials to get in compliance with all environmental regulations.”

Berris said the company has spent $8 million on air pollution improvements and plans another $34 million in upgrades. As far as the group simply being a means to placate the public, Berris said that just isn’t the case.

“We’re all working with the same goal in mind, which is to bring this plant into full compliance, which is what we’re trying to do,” Berris said. “We would like to keep that dialogue open with the community, and if these members feel they are not getting what they want and they want to resign, we do hope there are other community members who will come forward and work with us, and if they have concerns we will work with them to address them.”

A previously scheduled meeting for Tuesday had been pushed back to early January. It’s unclear if that meeting will still take place following the resignation of the majority of the group members.