Health Department Sends ABC Coke Permit Renewal to EPA for Review

A crowd of people showed up at a hearing on the ABC Coke permit application in November 2018. (Source: Robert Carter)

ABC Coke’s hopes for renewal of its operating permit for another five years are now in the hands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Jefferson County Department of Health submitted a proposed draft to the EPA for the permit renewal March 1, it announced today.

In a news release issued this afternoon, the health department said the EPA will have 45 days to review and comment on the proposed permit. A copy of the proposed permit, along with responses to comments made during the process, is available at www.jcdh.org,

The clean-air group Gasp indicated some of the changes it wanted were not included in the draft sent to the EPA.

The renewal was the subject of contentious testimony in two public comment hearings late last year as residents near the 100-year-old Tarrant facility voiced concerns about health problems they associated with its air emissions. Clean-air advocates also submitted comments to the health department seeking reduced emissions from the Drummond Company plant before approval of another permit under the Clean Air Act’s Title V.

Since the public comment period ended in December, the health department has been compiling all verbal and written submissions and developing responses to each. The government shutdown delayed the process somewhat, department officials have said. The department’s Air and Radiation Protection Division is charged with granting and enforcing permits for major sources of air pollution under Title V, which requires major sources of air pollution to obtain and operate in compliance with an operating permit, the department stated.

Gasp has long been involved in air pollution issues in the vicinity of the coke plant and said it is still reviewing the permit.

“At first glance, we are pleased to see changes” made in regard to “several deficiencies” the group identified in the general part of the draft permit, Michael Hansen, executive director, said in a text message this afternoon.

However, he said, Gasp’s more technical, emissions unit-specific comments, on initial review, indicated “that JCDH was unpersuaded by our arguments and did not implement the changes we discussed in our comments,” Hansen said.

Following the EPA 45-day review period, Gasp has 60 days to decide whether to petition EPA to reject the draft permit or make changes to it. “We’ll be working on that for the next several weeks,” he said.

Jonathan Stanton, director of environmental health services for the health department, said, “The Jefferson County Department of Health is committed to a transparent and fair public comment period that provides all parties a chance to give meaningful input into the Title V permitting process.”