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AK Steel lashes out at EPA lawsuit

Calls lawsuit ‘malicious and vindictive’ as oral arguments begin

By Dale Dempsey
e-mail address: dale_dempsey@coxohio.com
Dayton Daily News

CINCINNATI | Lawyers for AK Steel of Middletown accused the federal government of "malicious and vindictive" prosecution Monday as the company began a vigorous defense of a massive, high-stakes environmental civil lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice last year.

The case is being heard in the federal court of Judge Herman Weber of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. First oral arguments took place Monday.

"The U.S. claims are grossly overblown and misleading," said Paul Casper, lead attorney for AK Steel. "The government is engaged in an unconscionable attempt to defame AK Steel and paint one of the finest steel companies in the U.S. as a polluter."

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charges the company with violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the nation's major laws dealing with pollution. The Ohio attorney general's office filed a suit in June seeking to intervene in the case, listing similar charges.

On Monday, lawyers for AK Steel argued that Ohio should be prevented from joining the case. Judge Weber made no decisions on the many motions filed by both sides in the case, which may not make it to trial for months or years.

The trial, one of the biggest environmental actions in Ohio history, is being watched closely by environmental groups around the country. Last week the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council also filed a motion with Judge Weber to be allowed to intervene in the trial.

At stake for AK Steel is potentially millions of dollars in fines and penalties, according to the lawsuit. Some of the charges carry fines of up to $25,000 a day for each violation, which can be imposed retroactively. Some of the alleged violations go back a decade.

The company could also be forced to install millions of dollars in pollution control devices. The company claims that it has spent more than $60 million on new environmental controls and projects in Middletown in the last 15 years, according to a paper prepared by Alan McCoy, AK Steel's vice president for communication.

The government also faces high stakes. In its defense, AK Steel is challenging many of the statutes used to bring the civil suit. If the judge rules in the company's favor it could hamper the federal and state agencies ability to regulate other industries in the future.

"This has the potential to set a bad precedent," said Steve Crandall, lawyer for the environmental groups.

The government argued that it filed the lawsuit because pollution in the air around the steel plant and the water of nearby Dicks Creek poses a "clear and imminent danger."

"AK Steel is a company with a long and ugly record of non-compliance which continues to this day," said Robert Darnell, attorney for the U.S. Justice Department. "It represents a significant risk to the health of the people of Middletown."

In motions lawyers for Ohio claim it can join the trial acting as a "citizen," which lawyers for AK Steel dispute. The company claims that the filing of the federal lawsuit precludes state from joining.

AK Steel attorney Steve Haughey called the federal and state agencies actions a "witch hunt."

"Ohio should not be allowed in this case because the U.S. EPA had to step in and enforce the state's delegated program because they didn't do it," Haughey said.

"We object to being double-teamed through an intervention back door."

A sometimes irritated Judge Weber asked the government how many more motions would be filed in the case.

"I have looked over each of your findings of fact and points of law and I must say they are outstanding in their disagreement," Weber said.

• Contact Dale Dempsey at 225-2270 or e-mail him at dale_dempsey@coxohio.com

[From the Dayton Daily News: 09.11.2001]

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