The Independent | Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 12:02 am
ASHLAND U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to shift enforcement and oversight of the AK Steel Coke Plant cleanup to Kentucky environmental officials.
McConnell believes the move would speed up the process, allowing it to be more quickly redeveloped. He sees the project as essential to new job growth in eastern Kentucky, which was been struck hard by the recession and the continuing contraction of the coal industry. McConnell made the request in a letter dated Monday and addressed to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
According to McConnell, the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet previously submitted its own request that authority for the “characterization and cleanup” be transferred to the agency. He wrote, “In June of 2011, AK Steel Corp. ceased production at this facility. During previous inspections at the facility, the EPA identified various environmental issues, including issues related to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Consequently, the EPA is proceeding with enforcement actions that will likely result in a prolonged cleanup process.”
The RCRA gives the EPA authority over the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste, including problems that result from underground storage tanks. Officials at the EPA and the EEPC did not immediately return calls Wednesday night.
McConnell called the closure of the plant “devastating to the Ashland community.” It caused the loss of 350 direct jobs in the area and reduced Ashland’s payroll tax revenues by $500,000, he wrote.
Ashland officials have repeatedly stated the loss of AK Steel as a water customer also caused financial damage to the city on top of the loss in employee payroll taxes.Local officials said Wednesday they had no knowledge of the request and were not aware of enforcement actions pending against AK Steel as it related to the plants’ closure and cleanup.
City Manager Steve Corbitt said the city has always gotten very little information from AK Steel about its plans to clean up the property. “It’s not a city function,” he said. “They would need to satisfy state and federal requirements. We depend on what the state or the feds tell us.” Corbitt said he thinks giving control to the EEC over the EPA “is a good thing.”
State Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, was also not aware of the request, but also supported the move. “Any time that you have local control over something, it is a lot better than when you have a bureaucracy located in Washington, D.C.,” said Sinnette, who also provides contract legal services to the city. “I think it would be a lot better. I think it would be quicker in response time for both parties. The EPA tends to make up their own rules as they go along,” Sinnette said. “They are always moving the goal line, which I don’t understand.”
Sinnette and Corbitt said they believe the property has good potential for redevelopment if cleaned up properly. “It has all the infrastructure sitting right there. It has the railroad and the river, and a U.S. highway running right by it. It has all the electric power you need and it has access to a million gallons of water a day,” Corbitt said.