By Sandy Bihn Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper
Maumee Bay is an estuary at the very western end of Lake Erie – the Great Lakes’ warmest, shallowest,‘fishiest’waters, and lies between Lake Erie and the Maumee River. Maumee Bay is about 26 square miles and is very shallow with an average depth of five feet and is dredged annually along the Toledo Shipping channel to a depth of about 28’. The shallow, productive waters of Maumee Bay account for spectacular walleye, perch and bass fisheries and make it more sensitive to environmental impacts.
A new coke plant has been proposed to be located on a site where the Maumee Bay and Maumee River meet. Coking facilities process coal to produce coke which is used in the production of steel. The proposed coke plant will use 2.06 million tons of coal to produce 1.34 million tons of coke and produce 1.2 million tons of CO2.
Concerned with the environmental and economic health of the Western Lake Erie Basin, citizens have been opposing the construction of this facility since 2004. In March 2008, Sierra Club and Harbor View filed an appeal on the air permit granted by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) in December 2007.
The coke plant was issued the permit as a result of an amendment to the 2007 state budget bill.
The permit for the proposed coke plant sets a 51 pound limit for annual mercury release, unless the company can show that technology will not meet the limit. Overall the air permit for the coke plant would allow over 78 million pounds of pollutants annually (a fact sheet on the permit can be found at http://www.epa.state.oh.us/ pic/media/fds2.pdf). Unfortunately, the permit allows for a mercury increase if the coke plant cannot meet the 51 pound limit under the discretion of the Ohio EPA Director. The permit sets no limits on how much more mercury emissions the director is able to allow.
The trade-off is that it would create an estimated 150 jobs, a small number compared to the environmental impacts on nearby communities. And though there have been several public meetings held by the OEPA, there is no mention of the impacts on the health of nearby residents and workers.
The communities surrounding the proposed coke plant, Harbor View and North Oregon, are designated as an Environmental Justice Area. The hundreds of homes located there are in the shadow of the four major industrial uses all with permits to discharge pollutants to the air and water.
In 2005, the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a collection of federal, state, local and tribal governments, businesses, industrial representatives, agricultural representatives, environmental-conservation groups, and concerned citizens, released a Strategy To Protect and Restore the Great Lakes.This Strategy outlined recommendations tied to funding targets that would mean real benefits for the Great Lakes.
Allowing additional discharges of pollutants at such high amounts goes against the very essence of the Strategy To Protect and Restore the Great Lakes. Ask your state and federal elected officials and the OEPA to require the coke plant to use the latest technologies to reduce the amount of pollutants that are released into the air. Using the latest technologies to reduce the impact on the environment and therefore the surrounding communities will result in lower clean-up costs down the road. No longer are the days when development and consideration of the environment and the health of the communities can’t go hand and hand. Also, write letters to the editor outlining the need to balance economic growth with the environment and the health of the communities, by requiring the coke plant to use the latest technologies to reduce air pollutants.
For more information, contact Sandy Bihn, Executive Director of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeepers Association at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the coke plant go to westernlakeerie.org.