By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A local manufacturer of glass containers fined recently for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act is one of four Muskogee companies cited.
A review of state and federal records shows three other companies also have been subject to enforcement actions within the past three years for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act that contribute to poor air quality.
Owens-Brockway agreed in December to pay a $1.45 million fine and spend another $37.5 million to upgrade pollution control equipment at five facilities, including its Muskogee plant. Complaints filed against the company’s Muskogee plant allege major modifications were made that significantly increased harmful emissions without obtaining the requisite permits.
During the past three years, state regulators initiated enforcement actions against three other local companies. Monetary penalties were assessed against two companies, OG&E and Dal-Italia, for allegedly exceeding plant emission limits. A third company, Yaffe Iron & Metal Co., was subject to a consent order requiring the company to develop a plan to limit fugitive dust emitted from its Muskogee scrap-metal recycling plant.
Company representatives of all four facilities said the agreements reached with state and federal regulators included no admissions of liability. The consent orders, however, serve as a settlement of issues arising from the Clean Air Act violations alleged by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
Erin Hatfield, an ODEQ spokeswoman, declined to say whether the number of facilities subject to enforcement actions under the Clean Air Act is abnormal.
“DEQ responds to environmental violations throughout Oklahoma,” Hatfield said, noting violations are handled on a case-by-case basis, regardless of location. “It is simply a coincidence that four Muskogee area companies have come under enforcement action in the past three years.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are 36 companies operating in Muskogee County subject to Clean Air Act permit requirements. That means 11 percent of those companies were subject to enforcement actions during the past three years.
Compared with Owens-Brockway, a wholly owned subsidiary of Owens-Illinois and the nation’s largest manufacturer of glass containers, sanctions against the three other local companies were comparatively less stringent.
• State regulators and OG&E, which operates a power generation facility just outside Muskogee’s city limits, executed two consent orders since 2010. The first order, executed in October 2010, addresses problems at the Muskogee plant associated with fugitive coal dust, which is considered a respiratory toxicant. Exposure can result from inhalation, ingestion and eye contact.
A second consent order was issued in June 2011 by an Oklahoma County District Court judge executed in response to alleged excess opacity emissions and reporting violations. Skylar McElhaney, another ODEQ spokeswoman, said a $300,000 penalty was assessed for those alleged violations. Opacity involves the measurement of particulate matter released from stack emissions and the degree to which visibility is obscured.
Brian Alford, an OG&E spokesman, said the allegations involving the company’s Muskogee facility “are relatively minor issues.”
“The Muskogee plant has been a part of the local landscape for more than 80 years and has burned coal for about the last 30 of those years,” Alford said, noting the plant employs several hundred people and provides millions of dollars annually to the local tax base. “I’m not aware of any significant state or federal violation in the plant’s history.”
With regard to problems associated with fugitive coal dust from the OG&E facility, which ultimately resulted with Arrowhead Investment and Development Co. terminating its lease as the operator of a neighboring marina, Alford said minimizing “the potential for fugitive coal dust has been a long-standing practice” at the coal-fired plant.
“We continually spray our coal pile with water to reduce dust, have planted vegetation and reduced the coal pile size in an effort to manage the potential for fugitive dust,” Alford said. “To date, there’s never been an infraction related to fugitive dust.”
Alford said the “consent order was related to incomplete record-keeping related to when water was applied to the coal pile.” ODEQ documents state the agency’s investigators “observed significant amounts of black dust at locations outside the facility, but “no coal dust was noted as visibly crossing the facility boundary.”
Despite those findings, Alford said the company “entered into the consent order, which required that we take some additional steps, such as planting additional vegetation, which are now included in our permit.”
With regard to the consent order related to opacity, Alford said the agreement brought to a close “a long-running debate we had had with ODEQ related to emissions that occurred while the plant was not running.”
“We felt very confident in our position that we were in full compliance; however, we settled in order to avoid costly litigation,” Alford said. “Following the order, we took steps to ensure that we could accommodate ODEQ’s request without jeopardizing the safety of our employees or our equipment.”
• ODEQ and Dal-Italia executed a consent order in September 2011 in response to alleged permit violations. The consent order, accompanied by a $99,000 fine, identifies four alleged violations that ranged from failing to maintain emissions of four pollutants — particulate matter hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide — “at or below permitted limits” to the failure to record or monitor pollution control equipment.
Muskogee’s Dal-Italia plant, which processes raw material for the production of porcelain ceramic floor tiles, was required to pay a $24,750 cash fine and spend another $74,250 on a supplemental environmental project. The project included modifications to its pollution control equipment, all of which was completed June 20.
Dal-Italia is a subsidiary of Dallas-based Daltile, which began making ceramic tile in 1947. The company opened its Muskogee facility in 2003.
Daltile representatives did not respond to inquiries about the enforcement action initiated by ODEQ. The state environmental agency, in a letter dated Aug. 13, indicated the company had complied with all the provisions of the consent order, and the enforcement file was closed.
• ODEQ issued a notice of violation in January 2010 against Yaffe Iron & Metals, which recycles scrap metals here and at several other locations throughout the Midwest. The notice alleged five Clean Air Act violations. The issues of concern ranged from improper operations of emission-control equipment and allowing “fugitive dust to cross the property line and interfere with the use of adjacent property.
Other concerns cited by state regulators in the notice of violation included the alleged failure to conduct required inspections, maintain required records, or submit required reports. A consent order executed six months later focused solely on fugitive dust emissions and required the company to submit a mitigation plan that would comply with its permit.
Matt White, general manager of Yaffe’s Muskogee plant, said since October 2010, when the company satisfied the provisions of the consent order, there have been no problems related to fugitive dust escaping from the company’s Muskogee facility. ODEQ records indicate complaints have been filed during the past few months, but investigators were unable to confirm the occurrence of any violations.
Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. President Richard Nixon signed it into law, stating he believed the year of its passage would “be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America.”
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.