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Tonawanda Coke emissions threaten environment, federal officials say

A federal judge has ordered Tonawanda Coke back to his courtroom to address recent plant emissions.

U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny pointed to alleged violations of its 2014 sentence in directing the company to appear before him Sept. 4.

Federal probation officials contend the company's emissions are a threat to "human health and the environment" and violate the company's pledge not to commit any other federal, state or local crimes. In court papers, federal probation officials said the emissions, which occurred daily between April and July, have been documented by state and federal environmental officials monitoring the company's coke oven battery.

"We continue to attempt to resolve it," Daniel C. Oliverio, a lawyer for Tonawanda Coke, said of the emissions problem. "We've been working with the government, state and federal, on this issue since springtime."

Also, the company has been granted a Oct. 10 hearing date to appeal a ruling of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has threatened to revoke the plant's air permits in light of 176 environmental violations levied against the Town of Tonawanda manufacturer last month.

The DEC is seeking $736,250 in penalties against the company for allegedly violating its consent decree concerning air quality.

On Monday, community advocates and elected leaders from the City of Tonawanda and Grand Island urged the community to keep the pressure on Tonawanda Coke so that it is eventually forced to close.

"For many decades, Tonawanda Coke has proven time and time again that they don't give a damn about the welfare of their workers or the community surrounding the plant," said City of Tonawanda Mayor Rick Davis. "While fines have been levied against the company, they have been allowed to continue operations. That needs to change now."

Residents air concerns after Tonawanda Coke is cited with 'egregious' violations

Two workers were badly burned at the plant Friday afternoon and had to be taken to an urgent care center for treatment, said Jackie James-Creedon, director of the community group pressing for the company's closure. She and others said they regularly hear from employees at the company complaining about the working conditions there.

Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray said many were hopeful when Tonawanda Coke signed a consent decree to clean up its act. But the company hasn't followed through, he said. Neither has the company abided by a cease-and-desist order to stop releasing air contaminants.

"They told us they were going to do things right going forward," McMurray, who is running for Congress, said. "They said it was going to be different. It's not different. It's worse. What you have right now is internally, things are falling apart."

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, joined the call from the local officials to hold Tonawanda Coke accountable.

"We know they are putting our health at risk & we aren't going to be taken advantage of by bad actors," Higgins wrote in a tweet.

James-Creedon, who heads Citizen Science Community Resources, encouraged the public to keep the pressure on Tonawanda Coke, contribute to her organization and participate in its #StopTheStacks social media campaign.

"We're a very small organization," she said. "We can't do it alone."

McMurray said the community needs to take a stand against the company's exploitation.

"If there's more and more people involved, they won't be able to wait us out," he said.

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