Suit Served Against Pacific Steel

By Suzanne La Barre
Friday July 21, 2006

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an Oakland-based environmental health and justice non-profit, has served Pacific Steel Casting with a federal lawsuit, the organization announced Wednesday. 

The group, alleging that the West Berkeley steel foundry is violating the federal Clean Air Act, filed the lawsuit July 6, but had not met success serving papers, said Adrienne Bloch, senior staff attorney with CBE. 

On Wednesday, Pacific Steel Spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel said the company still had not seen the lawsuit. “We are refraining from comment,” she said. 

In the lawsuit, CBE claims the steel company, comprised of three plants on Second Street, has exceeded emissions limits and failed to comply with reporting requirements. If found to have violated federal law, Pacific Steel may be liable for civil penalties, though exactly how much is unclear, Bloch said. 

CBE is seeking up to $100,000 for mitigation projects to benefit the community, the lawsuit says. 

The case has been assigned to magistrate judge Bernard Zimmerman, Bloch said. A hearing may be scheduled as early as two months from now, she said. 

“The function of the lawsuit is to bring Pacific Steel into compliance and I’m hoping the lawsuit will succeed in that,” said Janice Schroeder, a member of both CBE and the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, a neighborhood watchdog group. “I want Pacific Steel to be a good neighbor and to clean up so not they only don’t have odors, but we don’t have toxics in the community.” 

Though the lawsuit represents the interests of community organizations like the West Berkeley Alliance and Berkeley Citizen, they are not named as plaintiffs in the case, as Berkeley Citizen representative L A Wood previously told the Daily Planet.  

Residents surrounding the plants have complained about odor and health problems for more than two decades. 

In December, Pacific Steel and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) reached a settlement agreement, which required the steel company to pay $17,500 in fines and install a $2 million odor-abatement system. BAAQMD recently penalized the company further for odor complaints, permit violations and installing equipment without the authority to do so. 

The air district is also very concerned Pacific Steel has not completed a health risk assessment, initially due in June, said Jack Colbourn, BAAQMD director of outreach and incentive, earlier this month. 

A separate small claims lawsuit against Pacific Steel, under the direction of the nonprofit organization Neighborhood Solutions, is also in progress. Residents are eligible to sue for up to $7,500 in damages.  

District 1 City Councilmember Linda Maio, who has been critical of the small claims suit because it could counteract clean-up efforts already underway, is amenable to the CBE action. 

“I’m not a technical person, so I can’t say what the grounds (of the lawsuit) are, but I think the more pressure we can put on Pacific Steel Casting (the better),” she said. “We really need them to clean up their emissions. … It’s just one more pressure point.”