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AK political solution seems bleak

By Thomas Gnau; Journal Business Writer; E-mail:

Talk to local government representatives, and a political solution to the challenges confronting AK Steel’s Middletown Works seems improbable, if not downright impossible.

Elected state leaders point out that new “maximum achievable control technology” rules — posted on the federal register last week — governing air pollution from integrated steelmakers are federal rules.

Dealing with those rules — existing facilities must comply with them within three years after their publication in the register — could cost AK up to $80 million, a company spokesman has said.

“I certainly hope that federal elected officials are being engaged in this discussion,” State Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown, said late last week.

“AK is a key element and point of pride for Middletown, Butler County and the eighth congressional district,” said Steve Forde, spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Boehner, a West Chester Republican. “Congressman Boehner values the contributions of AK and its employees to the community and will work with them to keep those contributions — economic and otherwise — strong for years to come.”

Boehner has written the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressing support for AK, Forde added. But Forde offered no specific ways Boehner’s office might assist AK.

The new air pollution rules aren’t the only challenge facing AK. Federal and state governments are suing the Middletown-based steelmaker for alleged violations of environmental laws, a suit that could go to trial in Cincinnati’s U.S. District Court late this year or early next. The company is concerned about “punitive” fines results from that suit.

And the Middletown Works blast furnace has not been re-lined since 1984. AK’s leaders and workers have been proud about how long they have been able to operate the furnace without re-lining, but when that maintenance becomes necessary, it could cost $100 million or more

Avoiding those expenses altogether — by shutting down the steelmaking part of Middletown Works — is an option AK’s leaders may choose, AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy has warned.

That choice would cost more than 1,000 high-paying Middletown jobs.

And McCoy has said AK really doesn’t have three years to comply with those new standards. Any pollution-control equipment needs to ordered, engineered, installed and tested, he has said. Some decision on the future of the Works’ hot end must be made in several months, he has said.

“I think this is something the federal government never takes into consideration when they pass these requirements,” said State Rep. Gary Cates, R-West Chester.

Ed Shelley, president of the union that represents more than 3,000 workers at Middletown Works, Armco Employees Independent Federation, wonders if low- or no-interest government-arranged loans — or even grants — might be possible to help AK shoulder environmental costs.

“I think there should be more partnering between business, labor and government,” Shelley said.

Asked about the possibility of loans, Forde said he could not commit his office to anything, but he did not wish to rule anything out.

Middletown City Manager Ron Olson doesn’t see much that city government can do. “I doubt it very much,” he said.

He added, “We would do anything we possibly could, because we fully and completely support AK Steel.”



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