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EPA's decision to allow more pollutants in waterways criticized

The Associated Press
10/9/02 5:35 PM

Activists criticized the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for granting AK Steel Corp. authority to dump more pollutants into waterways near its Middletown Works mill -- even while the EPA backs a lawsuit aimed at limiting pollution from the steel mill.

The agency said it agreed to allow changes in a pollution control permit issued to AK Steel in 1997. The changes would allow the steelmaker to increase the amounts of copper, zinc and cyanide discharged from the Middletown mill into the nearby Dicks Creek and the Great Miami River into which the creek flows.

AK Steel spokesman Alan McCoy said his company requested the changes in the wastewater discharge permit. The company contended that the Ohio EPA made an error and should have included those limits in the original pollution control permit issued in 1992.

Environmentalists said the EPA's decision didn't make sense. They also said it suggests that the agency isn't serious about supporting a federal lawsuit filed in June 2000 that accuses AK Steel of seven years of air and water pollution and hazardous-waste violations at the Middletown mill. The EPA filed in court as a supporter of the lawsuit.

"Why is the agency forgoing its enforcement power if it's serious about the existing litigation?" said Richard Sahli, a Columbus lawyer who served from 1987 to 1991 as chief counsel for the EPA. "This smells like politics, not environmental science."

"It calls into question the Ohio EPA's desire to fully enforce the Clean Water Act," said Bryan Clark, legislative advocate with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group.

Joe Koncelik, assistant director of the EPA, said there is no contradiction in the regulatory agency's actions.

Koncelik said the pending lawsuit in Cincinnati federal court is still the subject of negotiations between AK Steel and the federal and Ohio EPAs. The lawsuit potentially could force AK Steel to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and spend millions to install new pollution-control technology at the mill.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sees no conflict in what the Ohio agency did because the lawsuit alleges past pollution violations and the state permit change deals with current regulation, U.S. EPA spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said Wednesday.

Ohio EPA would prefer to settle with the company, Koncelik said. The agency was able to resolve the permit issue with AK Steel, but that represents a small part of the violations alleged in the lawsuit, he said.

"I absolutely think there's hypocrisy at play here," said Susan Knight, water project director for the Sierra Club in Cincinnati. "AK Steel is not changing anything, and these permits are not going to help the situation."

Dicks Creek is already polluted with toxic metals and has been the scene of fish kills, Knight said.

AK Steel doesn't plan to increase the emission of pollutants into the creek because it has no plans to change the processes used at the mill, McCoy said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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