Sierra Club and Environment Michigan, represented by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and National Environmental Law Center, announced Wednesday that they have taken the first steps in a Clean Air Act lawsuit against AK Steel Dearborn Works.
The groups sent their notice of intent to sue letter to state regulators, federal regulators and Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc., owner of the AK Steel plant. This represents the first step in the citizen enforcement suit process, as required under the Clean Air Act. In the notice letter, the groups state that they intend to prove that the AK Steel facility has violated the Clean Air Act by exceeding its air pollution emission limits thousands of times over the past five years.
“AK Steel’s blatant disregard for the law, blatant disregard for permitted emission limits, and blatant disregard for the community they operate in must and will be met with full accountability.” said Nicholas Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and one of the lawyers representing the groups. “We are hopeful that the suit will bring long needed relief to the residents of Southend Dearborn.”
The notice letter states that AK Steel has continually failed to comply with emission limits for lead and manganese, which are neurotoxins. In addition, the letter documents hundreds of violations of the plant’s “opacity” limits, which measure the amount of fine particulate matter emissions. Particulate matter is associated with asthma and other health conditions and other impacts on health and mortality. The Dearborn facility has had a history of poor compliance and was once labeled “by far the most egregious” facility in the state by Michigan regulators.
“For years, AK Steel has done little to reduce its harmful impact on our community,” said Samra’a Luqman, a Southend Dearborn resident. “After years of complaining about the impact the facility is having on our community, with few results, we are now taking matters into our own hands and demanding accountability.”
The AK Steel facility sits just feet away from a public school in a neighborhood where asthma and other health conditions are widespread. Community residents are hopeful that the lawsuit will protect the schoolchildren who learn and play in the shadows of the facility.
“Students deserve to learn in environments free from heavy pollution,”said Eman Ahmed Ed. S, a local resident and educator. “We just want AK Steel to be a good neighbor. The public health of local students, teachers and staff depend on it.”
Under the Clean Air Act, citizen lawsuits, such as this one, require a 60-day notice to the polluting company being accused, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. These lawsuits are typically brought in instances when a facility violates federal air pollution laws and when violations are not being diligently prosecuted by the state or federal government. If successful and if an alleged violator fails to fix the source of its alleged pollution, these lawsuits commonly result in federal court ordered monetary penalties, court orders requiring violators to alter operations to comply with emissions standards, and/or supplemental environmental project investments aimed at improving public health in the impacted community.
“There is no place for lead and other harmful pollutants in the air our children breathe,” added John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America and its state chapter, Environment Michigan. “At this point, we have no choice but to use the tools of the Clean Air Act to stop this pollution.”
SNIPS has reached out to an AK Steel representative for comment and this press release will be updated as the story develops.