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New York state to oversee safe shutdown of Tonawanda Coke facility, assist workers

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Fri, Oct 12th 2018 09:20 pm
Tonawanda Coke (File photo)
Tonawanda Coke (File photo)
UPDATE: On Sunday, the DEC sent out this press release:
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing the safe shutdown of the Tonawanda Coke Corp.'s (TCC) plant in Tonawanda, and will ensure the company is held accountable for an orderly closure of the plant. DEC will be on-site during these operations to ensure the remaining workforce and the community are protected during the shutdown process and to secure the site. 
The shutdown process started today under rigorous DEC oversight. Over the next few days, TCC will begin the process of purging and flaring coke oven gas out of its battery and piping system with a combination of nitrogen and steam, while the battery ovens will also be emptied of coke. This process will involve visible flames coming from the plant and DEC's onsite inspectors will ensure workers and the surrounding community are protected, and coordinate with state and local emergency responders if any incidents occur. In addition, DEC will ensure the site is fully secured to prevent any access to the plant once it is shuttered.
After the shutdown is complete, DEC and a multi-agency effort will work to stabilize the site and ensure the proper closure of tanks and disposal of any hazardous materials. A comprehensive investigation of the site will also be immediately launched to identify any contamination at the site and develop a cleanup plan through a transparent, public process that ensures community input at every step.
UPDATE No. 2: And the Department of Labor issued this press release:
The New York Department of Labor today dispatched a rapid response team to assist impacted workers from the Tonawanda Coke Corp.'s (TCC) plant with intensive job placement services and unemployment and medical benefits information.
"Our team was on the ground starting this morning. We'll be here for as long as we're needed to help these men and women access the benefits they need and, most importantly, find them new jobs," Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.
Aside from having staff on site at the TCC facility, DOL will also open its local career centers early tomorrow (7:30 a.m.) to continue providing services. Career counselors and unemployment insurance specialists will be on- site to assist. Displaced workers are urged to stop into either the Buffalo Career Center (284 Main St, Buffalo; 716-851-2600) or the Niagara Falls Career Center (Trott ACCESS Building, 1001 11th St.; 716-278-8258).
Two rapid response sessions are scheduled for impacted workers on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the United Steel Workers Union Hall, 810 Sheridan Drive, Tonawanda. Computers will be available for affected workers to apply online for unemployment insurance and search for jobs. All workers are welcome at these sessions, whether they are represented by the union or not.
In the coming days, DOL will schedule targeted career fairs for TCC employees. All workers will be contacted through the local mail to notify them of the career fair dates and locations, as well as provide information on what services they are eligible for.
Tonawanda Coke Corp., unable to meet financial obligations to keep plant operating, in compliance with the law intends to surrender air permits and close facility
DEC to secure site, oversee plant shutdown to protect workers & surrounding community; DOL dispatched to assist impacted workforce
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was informed by the Tonawanda Coke Corp. that, due to its financial inability to legally operate the plant, it is pursing plans to shut down the plant.
While no closure date has been provided by the company, DEC will dispatch staff to oversee the safe shutdown of the Tonawanda Coke plant in Tonawanda, and will be on-site during shutdown operations to ensure the remaining workforce and the community are protected and to secure the site.
The State Department of Labor is dispatching a rapid response team to assist impacted workers with intensive job placement services and information about how to access vital benefits such as unemployment insurance and NYS Marketplace affordable health care options.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "For too long, Tonawanda Coke has been a mismanaged blight on this community, and its owners will be held accountable for any damage to this community and the environment. We are directing the company to open their doors and take all appropriate steps to protect this community during their shutdown. DEC experts will be a constant, on-site presence to ensure public safety, and we demand TCC provide all information necessary to fully secure the site. After the plant is safely shuttered, a comprehensive investigation of any potential contamination will be launched to safeguard the Tonawanda community."
DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, "While not unexpected, the Department of Labor stands ready to help the workers who have lost their livelihood because of this negligent company's blatant disregard for the health and safety of the community. Starting with the change of shift Monday morning, our team will be on the ground meeting with displaced workers. We'll be here for as long as we're needed - to help these men and women access the benefits they need and, most importantly, find them new jobs."
DEC experts will ensure workers and the surrounding community are protected, and coordinate with state and local emergency responders if any incidents occur. In addition, DEC will ensure the site is fully secured to prevent any access to the plant once it is shuttered.
DOL will be scheduling rapid response sessions for impacted workers next week. The department will also be working closely with the United Steel Workers to help the workers they represent. Non-represented workers will be contacted through the local mail. DOL will provide services at the Buffalo Career Center (284 Main St., Buffalo; 716-851-2600) and the Niagara Falls Career Center (Trott ACCESS Building, 1001 11th St.; 716-278-8258).
After the shutdown is complete, state and federal agencies will work to stabilize the site and ensure the proper closure of tanks and disposal of any hazardous materials. A comprehensive investigation of the site will also be immediately launched to identify any contamination at the site, and develop a cleanup plan through a transparent, public process that ensures community input at every step.
Prior to today's announcement, DEC and TCC had adjourned an adjudicatory hearing that began on Wednesday. DEC staff was seeking to revoke this facility's Title V and air state facility permits after repeated environmental violations. TCC intends to surrender its air permits as part of the settlement of that proceeding.
Speaking of the closure, Congressman Brian Higgins said, "After years of bad actions by Tonawanda Coke, the community can finally breathe easier.
"Again and again, Tonawanda Coke proved themselves to be a bad corporate citizen, endangering the lives and health of its employees and neighbors. Still again and again, residents stood up and fought back, demanding better for our community. Tonawanda Coke thought residents would tire or go away, but instead their voices got louder and their argument got stronger.
"Tonawanda Coke had no respect for the law or the community and, without any demonstration of rectification, their shutdown was inevitable."
New York State Sen. Chris Jacobs, stated, "I am aware of today's reporting that Tonawanda Coke has decided to begin the process of ceasing its operations and file shut down plans with the state of New York. Over the long-term, this is very good news for the residents of Grand Island, Tonawanda and the entire region who, for years, have had to endure health concerns due to Tonawanda Coke's chronic unwillingness or inability to comply with state and federal environmental laws.
"Over the short-term, Tonawanda Coke's closure will be disruptive, especially to those employed at the plant who will lose their jobs. I commit to working with my partners in government and the many employers in the region, in particular those manufacturers in the River Road corridor, to find gainful employment for each and every displaced Tonawanda Coke worker."
In March of 2013, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Tonawanda Coke's violations are linked to the release of benzene, which is a known carcinogen.
On July 20 of this year, the DEC issued a "cease and desist, notice of violation, notice of intent to revoke" to Tonawanda Coke. In the DEC letter, it cited the "company's seeming disregard for environmental laws, rules and regulations" and said Tonawanda Coke "operations show a blatant disregard for the environment and the health and welfare of the surrounding community." The DEC filed additional notices of violation on Aug. 24.
On July 23, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter citing violations of the consent decree agreed to in the previous DOJ case against Tonawanda Coke requiring the company to comply with national emission standards. Tonawanda Coke appeared in Buffalo federal court on Sept. 4 related to these alleged violations.
In response to the most recent violations, Higgins sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state DEC on July 31 calling for no leniency.

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