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
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
"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
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,"
• Contact Dale Dempsey at 225-2270 or e-mail him at
[From the Dayton
Daily News: 09.11.2001]
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