Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 19, 2014

Tonawanda Coke ordered to pay $12.5M in fines; official jailed


Niagara Gazette — "I feel like the judge really heard our voices," said James-Creedon, who cried in court after the judge announced the community service projects. "I have worked so hard to have the soil testing, and to have it funded just provides so much vindication. The ironic thing is that Tonawanda Coke is paying for it." 

The plant will pay the fine money and community service funds over the course of five years. 

During his opening remarks, Skretny stated that he intended for his sentence to constitute "more than a slap on the proverbial wrist," but that he did not want the fines to represent a "corporate death penalty."

"It environmental manager existed in title only and the strategy was to react to violations only when caught," Skretny said. "Tonawanda Coke has failed the community. Yes, it is to be recognized for employing 100 people, but it has breached society's reasonable trust." 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango, who prosecuted the case, echoed those statements and said the plant's conduct illustrated "a total and utter disrespect for the environment and the environmental regulatory framework."

He reviewed the plant's crimes, noting that Tonawanda Coke operated an unpermitted pressure relief that emitted tons of coke oven gas, that it failed to install a required environmental barrier in its quench tower and that it improperly stored and disposed of hazardous waste.

Mango also argued that the recent explosion at the plant indicates that Tonawanda Coke has not changed its approach to environmental regulations. The plant, which eventually admitted that workers were injured in the incident, received two notices of violations from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for failing to maintain its equipment and failing to report the explosion. 

"It's difficult to sit by and hear that they have done everything in their power to cooperate with regulatory agencies when that's just absolutely not true," Mango said.

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