BUFFALO, NY - Federal Judge William Skretny ruled Tonawanda Coke must pay a $12.5 million fine for violating the Clean Air Act. The plant must also fund two impact studies, including a soil study.
Tonawanda Coke's environmental manager, Mark Kamholz was sentenced to a year and a day in jail, 1-year probation, 100 hours community service and fined $20,000.
Judge Skretny said the company "undoubtedly failed the community" by reacting to violations when it was caught rather than obeying regulations in the first place. He added that the company provided little or no meaningful environmental training. The judge said Tonawanda Coke's conduct was "inexcusable" and that the environmental manager "existed in title only."
Last March Tonawanda Coke was convicted of 14 counts of violating the Clean Air Act for releasing cancer-causing benzene into the air during the venting of coke oven gas.
Neighbors who live near the plant blame their respiratory problems and other illnesses on emissions.
The judge said it was set at a level that released coke oven gas and dangerous pollutants into the air every 20 to 30 minutes. The release lasted ten seconds or more. An attorney speaking on behalf of Tonawanda Coke said the pressure relief valve should not have operated the way it did.
The defense said Tonawanda Coke is "not a criminal enterprise" and said the fines should not be a "corporate death sentence."
Prosecutors recommended the company be fined more than $57 million. They want $44 million of that to go to the U.S. Treasury Department and the rest to a community fund to help with local cleanup and help those impacted.
During today's sentencing, Judge Skretny outlined each of the 14 counts and the fines associated with them. The fines totaled nearly $295 million, but the judge said Tonawanda Coke is only financially capable of paying up to $25 million.
The Environmental Protection Agency previously ordered Tonawanda Coke to make changes to reduce air and water pollution at its River Road plant. According to the Clean Air Coalition, the plant can remain open as long as it proves to the government it is cleaning up its operations.