Erie Coke fails to appear for arraignment on environmental charges


Nobody appeared in federal courtroom in Erie for Erie Coke, indicted as an organization on costs that it and the superintendent of the now-closed plant violated the Clear Air Act for 4 years.

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  • Federal grand jury indicted former Erie Coke, its final plant superintendent in November
  • Superintendent arrested, pleaded not responsible at arraignment
  • Erie Coke, closed since 2019, didn’t ship representatives to its look as an organization

When a person defendant fails to seem for a courtroom listening to, the choose could problem a warrant for the individual’s arrest.

However what occurs when a sued firm fails to ship a consultant to a courtroom listening to? What occurs to the company?

The questions have come to the fore within the prison case in opposition to the previous Erie Coke Corp.

A company consultant failed to seem at Erie Coke Corp.’s arraignment Wednesday earlier than federal choose Richard A. Lanzillo, sitting in federal courtroom in Erie.

He scheduled the arraignment following a Nov. 15 indictment alleging that Erie Coke Corp. and its former plant superintendent, Anthony Nearhoof, conspired to violate the federal Clear Air Act. They’re accused of intentionally circumventing environmental monitoring techniques to keep away from detection of air high quality violations.

A grand jury stated the violations occurred between October 2015 and December 2019, when the 137-employee Erie Coke plant on the foot of East Avenue closed because of persistent environmental points.

Accusation:Erie Coke, former plant supervisor accused of violating the Clear Air Act and tampering with displays

Nearhoof, 41, of Pittsburgh, was arrested following the indictment and, with an legal professional current, pleaded not responsible at his arraignment in Pittsburgh federal courtroom on Nov. 17, based on courtroom information. He’s free on a $10,000 unsecured bonus. He faces federal jail time and fines if convicted.

Erie Coke pleaded not responsible at his arraignment Wednesday, however solely as a result of Lanzillo adopted federal guidelines for absentee defendants and pleaded responsible on behalf of the company. Lanzillo could not do the rest with out an Erie Coke consultant current.

β€œMy choices are restricted on this state of affairs,” Lanzillo stated on the arraignment. He stated studying the fees to the defendant and reviewing the defendant’s rights, normal follow at an arraignment, “would not make any sense” with out an Erie Coke consultant in courtroom.

As of Friday afternoon, no legal professional had entered Erie Coke’s look within the federal courtroom docket. At Wednesday’s arraignment, performed through Zoom, the US Legal professional’s Workplace in Pittsburgh was attended by two prosecutors: Michael Ivory and Perry McDaniel. They didn’t remark on the listening to on the absence of an Erie Coke consultant.

β€œWe are going to pursue all obtainable authorized choices to convey Erie Coke to courtroom,” the US Legal professional’s Workplace stated in a press release to the Erie Occasions-Information following the arraignment.

Does Erie Coke nonetheless exist? What about your property?

The subsequent step for prosecutors may very well be to find out whether or not Erie Coke nonetheless exists as an organization and whether or not it has any property, stated Philip Friedman, a longtime Erie legal professional who shouldn’t be concerned within the Erie Coke case however has represented the company defendants in different circumstances.

If discovered responsible, Friedman stated, solely Erie Coke as an organization may very well be held responsible for the fines. He stated the federal government couldn’t prosecute the company officers of the company, if any, for the fines that resulted from a conviction and sentencing of Erie Coke as an organization.

“They’ll nice the company, but when it would not exist, what good is it?” Friedman stated.

Fines may be as excessive as $250,000, based on the US Legal professional’s Workplace.

The indictment “holds Erie Coke Company and its administration accountable for masking up and mendacity to federal regulators and the general public about their discharges,” Jennifer Lynn, particular agent in command of the EPA’s Midwest department, stated in asserting the indictment. in November. . The EPA led the investigation.

The case is assigned to US District Decide Susan Paradise Baxter, US District Courtroom in Erie. The trial is anticipated to final 17 days, based on info introduced at Nearhoof’s arraignment.

Erie Coke property nonetheless faces $1 million Superfund lien

Though Erie Coke closed in December 2019, the company nonetheless owns the greater than 100 acres the place the plant operated at 925 E. Bay Drive, on the foot of East Avenue and alongside the shoreline of Lake Erie and simply east of the channel connecting the lake and Presque Isle Bay. However promoting that property to boost cash to pay a nice could be tough.

The property is the location of a Superfund cleanup that the federal Environmental Safety Company is overseeing following a referral from the state Division of Environmental Safety. In September, the EPA stated it was almost carried out eradicating and disposing of hazardous waste from tanks, containers, and pipelines, demolishing buildings, and recycling waste supplies. After EPA completes its work, State DEP will assess the extent of contamination within the soil, water, and sediment remaining on the web site.

The EPA estimates the cleanup will price greater than $7 million. To assist recuperate prices, the EPA in August 2021 positioned a $1 million Superfund lien on three parcels, totaling 162 acres, on the Erie Coke property. EPA filed the lien within the Erie County Courtroom of Frequent Pleas.

Erie Coke must pay the lien quantity to the federal government as soon as the previous plant web site is bought, although different collectors might even have claims. Fee of the lien and different claims might go away little cash for Erie Coke to pay the penalties until the corporate has different property.

Environmental considerations pressured the closure of Erie Coke

Erie Coke has an extended historical past in Erie.

A blast furnace was first constructed on the location of the Erie Coke plant in 1833, resulting in the manufacturing of coke, a gas supply utilized in quite a lot of industries, together with metal mills, based on the indictment. The plant grew to become Erie Coke Corp. in 1987, when Buffalo-area businessman JD Crane acquired the power from Koppers Corp.

Crane died in 2014, leaving a grandson on the helm of Erie Coke. The corporate additionally owned Tonawanda Coke, Erie Coke’s sister plant close to Buffalo. That plant closed in 2018 because of environmental violations. Tonawanda Coke additionally filed for chapter, in contrast to Erie Coke.

The closure of the Erie Coke plant in December 2019 ended a long-running authorized battle between the corporate and the state DEP, which introduced in July 2019 that it will not renew the plant’s Title V working allow because of persistent violations of environmental rules.

However the firm ended operations on the plant earlier than it had an opportunity to make its case. Erie Coke introduced that it will shut down the plant on December 19, 2019, after repeatedly failing to adjust to Metropolis of Erie necessities for wastewater discharge.

Defendant Erie Coke Plant Supervisor Began Out as an Hourly Employee

The eight-count indictment in opposition to Erie Coke and Nearhoof, the plant’s superintendent, alleges they tampered with environmental monitoring techniques and violated the Clear Air Act for varied causes. They embody, based on the indictment, lowering “the probability of enforcement actions by state and federal regulators”; keep away from the price of repairs; and to maximise “income and revenue by working the plant as a lot as potential.”

The defendants are additionally accused of tampering with measurements of heating techniques that have been emitting pollution and pollution into the air, together with the chemical compounds benzene, toluene Y xylenestated the US Legal professional’s Workplace. EPA classifies benzene as a recognized carcinogen.

Though Nearhoof is the one particular person defendant charged within the indictment, the indictment alleges that he conspired to violate the Clear Air Act on the plant with one other individual, a supervisor recognized solely as “Co-Conspirator A.” That individual was not charged.

Nearhoof had labored at Erie Coke for almost 20 years, based on the indictment, which refers back to the enterprise as ECC. The indictment states that he began on the plant in August 2001, grew to become a foreman in 2003 “and labored his approach up” till he served as assistant plant superintendent from 2010 to October 2015.

Erie Coke promoted Nearhoof to plant superintendent in October 2015 and served in that place till the plant closed in December 2019, based on the indictment. “As a plant superintendent,” based on the indictment, Nearhoof “was the best rating ECC worker on web site day by day.”

The indictment describes Nearhoof as a “accountable company officer” and an “operator” of Erie Coke as outlined within the Clear Air Act.

Contact Ed Palattella at epalattella@timesnews.com. Comply with him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.

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