Lisa Frye: Fight against SunCoke plant is not a game

I was in disbelief at the latitude some have taken to justify the construction of a highly polluting coke-making facility – a facility permitted, when functioning, to emit more than 2,000 tons of pollution in the air per year – when I heard a local city official state, “You can’t get everything out of the air.” Not long after, it was reported that the noise in nearby neighborhoods was the same decibel as conversational speech or an air-conditioner — a comparison that can hardly be taken seriously,

Additionally, AK Steel spokesman Alan McCoy recently made reference to our legal fight as a “protracted and unsuccessful gambit.” The guilty parties are SunCoke and AK Steel who have used their power and money to manipulate government process at the expense of families. If the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency had fulfilled its mandate, no one would have to spend time and money standing up for what the law has deemed necessary. Since it has refused to do so, the citizens have been forced to stand in the legal gap.

On the heels of the Ohio Supreme Court decision, which reversed the Ohio Power Siting Board’s decision to give SunCoke a permit to produce 50 megawatts or more of electricity, Middletown Coke withdrew its application. The company would have had the responsibility to go back to the board and try to prove that the plant was sited in a way that “represents the minimum adverse environmental impact.” Given that its current location is in the midst of an elementary school, retirement village and residential area, the company must have known it would have great difficulty justifying this irresponsible decision.

Instead of meeting the legal requirement, the company is reportedly redesigning the facility to avoid their legal responsibility to the community.

At the oral arguments on the summary judgment and stay motions on Nov. 15, one of the attorneys for the Ohio Attorney General’s office stated that the only requirement for SunCoke’s compliance certification was to submit a letter stating they were in compliance. This attorney — who was representing the current EPA director, Chris Korleski — argued the director had no affirmative, statutory duty to confirm the accuracy of the letter.

So, in a nutshell, the Ohio EPA really has no intention to certify compliance – only a superficial requirement, which seems to allow blatant deception and the subsequent reward of permits that threaten the health and quality of life of our families.

It, too, was ironic when local headlines read that chickens must be 300 feet from a neighbor’s home in the city of Middletown, given Middletown City Council changed their setbacks from 600 feet to 20 feet (a change now applicable to all industrial sites), to allow SunCoke to have coal piles and train tracks 20 feet from property lines – property lines which used to abut virgin farmland.

Some politicians seem more concerned with citing property owners in historic districts for not meeting standards than holding industrial companies like SunCoke accountable. Some local politicians and company representatives should just state that their priority is business, not the health of the children at Amanda Elementary, elderly at Garden Manor Retirement Village or families in the surrounding area – many who will be sandwiched between two coking facilities.

I continue to find it perplexing that the very ones who are advocating so strongly for this facility are the very ones who are not sacrificing anything personally in the process. They are, however, expecting so many others to jeopardize their health, peaceful home life, financial investments and personal control so that their agenda can be fulfilled. Deterioration of quality of life seems to carry little significance as long as it doesn’t hit too close to home. Their so-called progress is at the expense of so many others.

On the heels of our recent elections, it seems so few in positions of power seem to use their influence for the good of those they are elected to serve. Many of our so called leaders have a price tag — money and power trump character and integrity, and rules are made to be broken or changed to accommodate the highest bidder.

Our opposition may view this fight as a “gambit” – a chess match of sorts or a game; however, we view it as a necessary fight to protect our children, families and quality of life. This is anything but a game, but a fight for our homes, health and future.

Lisa Frye is president of SunCoke Watch Inc.