WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. John
Boehner has asked the Bush administration to reconsider a pollution
lawsuit against Ohio steelmaker AK Steel, calling it ``punitive and
In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Christine Whitman, Boehner said he hoped ``you will work in
partnership with employers, rather than through litigation.''
``We are concerned about (the) punitive and
counterproductive aspects of this litigation,'' he wrote.
Whitman hasn't replied to the letter, dated May 3, but copies of
it have been circulating among environmental groups.
``It gives the impression that Congressman Boehner is more
interested in protecting the profits of AK Steel rather than the
health of the people of Middletown, Ohio,'' said Ed Hopkins of the
``When agencies charged with protecting public health and the
environment find violations of the law and litigate, the local
congressman should not just step up to the company's defense,'' he
Jana Chapman, a spokeswoman for Boehner, said the congressman
asked Whitman to take a look at the AK Steel case because it is the
largest manufacturer in his southwestern Ohio 8th Congressional
District, employing some 3,700 workers.
``They contribute $1.5 billion to Ohio's economy and contribute
high-paying jobs to the district and are one of the only steel
companies in the nation who are actually turning a profit right
now,'' she said. ``Those are the reasons Congressman Boehner sent
The lawsuit was filed last year by the federal government, and
the state government asked to join the case. A federal magistrate
recommended that Ohio be allowed to join, but the final decision on
that is still pending before U.S. District Judge Herman Weber in
Cincinnati. Weber also is considering the steel company's motion to
dismiss the case.
Meanwhile, settlement talks have been under way, and local
politicians have sought high-level help in Columbus.
In a letter to Gov. Bob Taft, the elected commissioners in Butler
County, Ohio, which includes AK Steel's Middletown Works, said they
were worried about the possibility that losing the pollution lawsuit
could lead to the company shutting down its furnace.
``What good is clean air when it comes at the cost of hungry
children and unemployed parents?'' the commissioners wrote.
AK Steel spokesman Alan McCoy said the company would have few
financially sound choices if it were to be hit with the double
whammy of having to buy expensive pollution controls plus pay
maximum penalties of $25,000 a day.
``We don't think we would lose but if we were to lose, and
subjected to maximum fines and required to install $80 million worth
of controls, there are things we'd have to look at. It's not a
threat to anybody, it's just prudent business,'' he said.
The core of the case is the government's contention that AK Steel
violated air and water pollution laws.
The steel company said it was complying with the law under the
terms of a nearly 20-year-old exemption agreement that allowed
pollution to be measured on a plantwide basis instead of
stack-by-stack and pipe-by-pipe. ``We absolutely deny that we broke
our agreement,'' McCoy said.
``We continue to negotiate,'' said Joe Case, a spokesman for Ohio
Attorney General Betty Montgomery. ``If we can bring the company
into compliance and deal with the concerns of the suit, that would
be a move in the right direction.''