Ohio Supreme Court Agrees: Pumping Out Pollution Next To Homes and Schools Might Be a Bad Idea
Posted December 2, 2010
Is it a good idea to build a massive new air pollution source 1200 feet from an elementary school? Less than a mile from a nursing home? Or in the backyards of a residential neighborhood?
These are rhetorical questions. The answer, of course, is no… unless you happen to live in my hometown of Middletown, Ohio, in which the longtime major employer, AK Steel, has said that it needs a new coke plant to ensure that people in Middletown keep their jobs. But rather than building that new coke plant on the site of its existing 2,791 acre site, AK Steel is working with SunCoke Energy to build site the facility on farmland that is adjacent to its Middletown Works, but also adjacent to the Amanda Elementary School, and within a mile of the Garden Manor Extended Care Center and dozens of middle class family homes.
Here is a photo of the site... you can see the rolling farmland being cleared and converted into an industrial site, with peoples' homes and Amanda Elementary at the top of the picture:
It gets worse. Not only do AK Steel and SunCoke want to put this facility a 400-yard dash away from where kids play outside at recess, in planning the facility the companies have also failed to follow the basic requirements of the federal law, the Clean Air Act, that is designed to protect public health from the harms caused by air pollution. The Clean Air Act requires companies building new facilities like this one to use the best available technology to reduce their harmful emissions.
This is not an idle concern. The Clean Air Act’s benefits are real and measurable – in terms of lives saved, cases of asthma and lost work days avoided, and economic benefits to our communities from being able to breathe cleaner air.
NRDC has been working with SunCoke Watch, a group of residents from the neighborhood who will be directly affected by the pollution from the new SunCoke plant, to challenge its air pollution permit for failing to live up to the Clean Air Act’s requirements. These are people who never thought of themselves as “environmentalists” before SunCoke started building a coke plant in their backyards… They didn’t ask for this fight. All they want is to be able to swim in their backyard swimming pools, play in their neighborhood playgrounds, and otherwise live in their homes and community without having their family’s lungs turned into catch basins for an illegal cloud of soot from this new coke plant.
Also involved in this fight is the City of Monroe, the town that borders Middletown to the south and will receive much of the pollution but none of the tax revenue generated by the plant. Yesterday, Monroe won a big victory in the Ohio Supreme Court, when it ruled that the Ohio Power Siting Board should not have approved the SunCoke plant without considering whether it would be less harmful to Monroe’s homes and schools if it were sited somewhere else. In the words of the Court, “the siting board’s ruling unreasonably denied Monroe an opportunity to test the company’s assertion that its preferred location—a half-mile from Monroe’s neighborhoods and 1,200 feet from a school—poses the ‘minimum adverse environmental impact’” as required for siting a facility like this one under Ohio law.
The Ohio Supreme Court has stepped in as a voice of reason, in what has otherwise been an unfortunately polarized debate. Now the City of Monroe will have to go back to the Ohio Power Siting Board and make its case that the plant should be sited somewhere else. Meanwhile, NRDC and SunCoke Watch will continue to work with Monroe in opposing the plant’s illegal air pollution permit.
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