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AK, EPA to meet in federal court Monday

By Thomas Gnau

Journal Business Writer


CINCINNATI -- AK Steel Corp. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have a date in this city's U.S. District Court Monday.

Set for 9 a.m. before Judge Herman J. Weber, the session will have attorneys reviewing the lawsuit's course.

But it might also be the first time oral arguments will be made in court on a lawsuit filed in June 2000 against Middletown-based AK by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the U.S. EPA. Briefings and motion filings have long been exchanged in the case, AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy said.

The lawsuit alleges AK violated the Clean Air, Clean Water and Resource Recovery and Conservation acts. AK is challenging the claims.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency wants to join the U.S. EPA in the lawsuit, and a federal magistrate judge recommended the state agency be allowed to do that, OEPA officials said Thursday.

OEPA Assistant Director Joe Koncelik said that kind of unity between state and federal environmental agencies isn't unusual.

"We believe we should be an equal co-plaintiff with the United States in pursuing the action," he said.

The magistrate's recommendation has been submitted to Weber and might be the subject of open-court arguments Monday, Koncelik said.

If the judge dismisses the state from the lawsuit, that would be a "milestone" in the case, he said.

AK's leaders said in March that if the company is forced to install expensive pollution-control equipment at its Middletown Works while paying punitive fines, they may evaluate whether it makes economic sense to keep making steel there.

That could jeopardize up to 2,000 jobs, but company leaders have also said no decision on that question will be made soon.

While Koncelik said the state is interested in a settlement with AK, he wouldn't dismiss the idea of pursuing punitive fines.

"Part of putting someone in compliance is treating all corporate citizens equally," he said.

Sierra Club and Citizen Action activists have visited Middletown neighborhoods talking to residents about AK, said Marilyn Wall, a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter.

Her group's goal, she said, is to see "compliance" with environmental laws, not job losses at AK.

"It wouldn't benefit anybody," she said. "We really need to see the place cleaned up, though."

A U.S. Justice Department attorney, Robert Darnell, declined through a U.S. EPA spokeswoman to comment on the case. A U.S. EPA staff attorney involved in the case, Robert Guenther, couldn't be reached Thursday.


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