State reps want EPA to oversee Severstal pollutant levels

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — As Severstal awaits a decision on whether it will be permitted to continue with its current level of pollutants moving forward, two state representatives are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and oversee the permitting process and subsequent compliance.

Reps George Darany (D-Dearborn) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) made the announcement in a joint press release May 7 one day after Tlaib held a press conference at the American Moslem Society, 9945 W. Vernor Hwy., asking for the EPA’s involvement with the issue.

Both representative said the call for EPA involvement came after “an environmental firm exposed
attempts by a local company to avoid complying” with air quality standards currently in place.

Tlaib cited emails that were revealed between the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation discussing the proposed permit.

According to published reports, the emails began between the parties in June 2012 after Severstal CEO Sergei Kuznetsov told Gov. Rick Snyder and MEDC President Michael Finney that the company was concerned about pollution permit requirements.

As talks continued and the permit process began, an MEDC representative stayed involved and at least once set the agenda for a meeting involving Severstal and the MDEQ.

Another email from the MEDC contained a “to-do list” for Severstal that included asking it to make a case for why it should be grandfathered into the 2006 emission rules and shouldn’t be subjected to current regulations.

“The emails uncovered make it appear that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been guided through a process that does not put the people’s best interest first,” Tlaib said. “The MDEQ’s Air Quality Division is directed to minimize adverse impacts on human health and environment.”

She added that the communities surrounding the plant are directly impacted and have suffered from the pollution.

“The families I represent live under a tremendous amount of pollution,” Tlaib said. “One in four children have asthma, and studies have shown that nearby neighborhoods are some of the most polluted ZIP codes in the state.”

Darany, the minority vice chairman of the House Health Policy Committee, said air quality and the environment in general should be top priority for every party involved.

“We need to be doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our citizens,” Darany said in a release. “I certainly understand that good-paying jobs are critical to our state, but it is imperative that we work together with the businesses in our community to follow the guidelines and rules established to protect our citizens and the future of this state.”

Severstal has been working under a permit from the MDEQ since 2006, but officials from both parties have recently stated that oversight and inaccurate level reporting led to the steel mill polluting in larger amounts than it is allowed to.

Severstal officials have said the permit revision will not allow for an increase in pollutants but will more accurately represent what the plant has been emitting over the last eight years.

The company applied for a revised permit that reflects the current emissions early this year. MDEQ Air Quality Division Chief Vince Hellwig said that he expects to make a ruling on the matter in the coming weeks.

The MDEQ can either approve the permit as drafted, accept if modifications are made or revoke it outright.

The new permit would allow Severstal to double its carbon monoxide emissions, allow for PM10, or fine-particle dust, emissions to rise between two and five times and lead emissions to increase hundreds of times over what is now permitted.

Severstal has 20 air quality violations on record with the MDEQ, many of which resulted from reports from nearby residents complaining of fallout, smoke and other emissions from the plant.

The plant is at 4001 Miller Road on part of the former Rogue Steel complex and it employs about 1,400 people.

Severstal finished a $740 million modernization program at the plant in 2011 and currently produces 3.6 million net tons of hot rolled, 2.1 million net tons of cold rolled, and 1.1 million net tons of galvanized and galvannealed sheet each year.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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