State regulators have sued Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting Company (PSC), demanding either an accurate, up-to-date emissions list or a $10,000-a-day fine.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQMD) filed suit Monday, demanding that the firm comply within 30 days or start coughing up the fines.
The action filed in Alameda County Superior Court charges PSC with “failure to meet statutory deadlines for reporting air emissions, and for violating the schedule contained in a recent settlement agreement designed to resolve an ongoing series of air quality complaints.”
“We have been working with Pacific Steel Casting for more than a year to address air quality concerns, culminating in last year’s settlement agreement,” said AQMD Executive Officer Jack P. Broadbent in a statement Monday.
“Unfortunately, PSC’s inability to meet their agreed-upon deadlines forces us to take this measure,” he said.
The suit seeks civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each day that the emissions inventory is not submitted and an order requiring PSC to install a carbon absorption filtering system at Plant 3 as originally scheduled.
The agency has identified Plant 3 as the source of the maximum complaints that have led neighbors to make repeated calls for tighter regulation of the facility.
“PSC is already running late by two months. We are in the litigation phase now and they have to respond within 30 days,” said AQMD spokesperson Darrell Waller. “We hope that PSC will take their responsibility to protect the well-being of the community seriously.”
Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the company’s public relations consultants, said Wednesday that PSC hadn’t seen the AQMD’s complaint. “It is very difficult to say something about a lawsuit we haven’t seen yet,” she said.
The action alleges that “PSC failed to obtain timely governmental approvals from the City of Berkeley and the district for installation of the odor abatement system as called for in the settlement agreement.”
The system, officials said, “is expected to significantly reduce odors” from the plant.
The suit also charges PSC with “failure to meet its May deadline under the state Air Toxics ‘Hot Spots’ Act of 1987 for submitting an updated emissions inventory report,” delaying a planned health risk assessment “intended to identify potential localized health impacts from toxic air emissions at the facility.”
“We are sorry that it had to come to this,” said Nabil al-Hadithy, the City of Berkeley’s hazardous materials manager and secretary for the Community Environmental Advisory Commission.
“However, it is totally within the rights of AQMD to demand the inventory report and we support their action. We hope Pacific Steel will comply.”
Hadithy said that the city has hired TetraTech, a private firm, to oversee all aspects of the actual data collection and health risk assessment at PSC’s expense.
He said that it had been a complete waste of time for them to go down to Bay Area AQMD to start the process because there had been insufficient data from BAAQMD.
“We are very concerned with every aspect of why they are withholding the emission reports. I have asked Elizabeth Jewel for a reason for why PSC is doing this. She has yet to come back to me with an explanation,” he said.
Hadithy said he had “heard, but cannot confirm that PSC’s lawyer Mr. Rubin, has asked his client not to hand over the emissions report because they want to review it for quality, completion and what have you.”
“That’s incredible,” said Willi Paul, director of Cleanaircoalition.net, a neighborhood watchdog group which—along with other environmentalists—has repeatedly demanded the report’s release.
“This is empowering news for the many sick and tired West Berkeley, El Cerrito and Albany neighborhoods under constant attack by the dirty profits and choking black air from PSC,” he said.
“Perhaps now the community can get to the truth concerning the emissions pouring down our streets and toxifying our lives day and night,” he said.
Steve Ingraham, a long-time Berkeley clean air activist and alliance member, agreed. “This is the type of regulatory action the air district should have been doing all along. We hope this will turn the heat on PSC.”
Paul and Ingraham are joining with Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, and other neighborhood groups for a PSC Protest March Sept. 16 to demand the immediate release of the heath impact emission reports.
Communities for Better Environment, another community watchdog group, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on Thursday, asking the court to order PSC to stop violating their 2.5 ton emission limit for source 14. “Source 14 is one of the main sources for the facility in terms of producing emissions,” said Adrienne Bloch, senior attorney for the organization. “We have also asked that the court to order PSC to report the emission tests immediately,” she said..