Beth Steel to pay $3.5 million to settle lawsuits Penalty is state's largest for pollution

May 02, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Bethlehem Steel Corp. will pay $3.5 million in fines over the next two years for air pollution violations caused by the now-idled coke ovens at its Sparrows Point plant, state and federal officials announced yesterday.

The penalty, the largest ever assessed for pollution violations in Maryland, is to be paid as part of a settlement of lawsuits filed against Bethlehem Steel in the past two years by state and federal environmental agencies.

The settlement ends a long-running dispute between the steelmaker and government officials over the coke ovens. The officials contend that Sparrows Point has been a major source in the Baltimore area of potentially cancer-causing coke oven gases and of sulfur dioxide, which contributes to the formation of acid rain.

Bethlehem Steel in December indefinitely shut down its three coke oven facilities, saying it needed to study how to overhaul them so they could operate in compliance with air pollution laws. The company laid off 400 workers and reassigned 100 as a result of the shutdown.

Spokesman G. Ted Baldwin said yesterday that Bethlehem Steel is still studying its options. The Bethlehem, Pa.-based company posted an annual loss of $767 million in 1991.

Under a consent decree filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Bethlehem Steel agreed to comply with all state and federal air pollution laws if it ever restarts any of the coke ovens. The company would have to "completely rebuild" them to do that, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Bethlehem Steel will pay half of the penalty to the state and half to the federal government under the settlement, which cannot be approved by the court until after a 30-day public comment period. The company may have to pay still more fines for alleged pollution violations involving the basic oxygen furnace at Sparrows Point. Company and state officials are still negotiating over those, which were not included in yesterday's settlement.

Maryland's Environment Department filed suit against Bethlehem Steel in October 1990 seeking more than $1 million in fines for alleged pollution violations at the coke ovens and the basic oxygen furnace.

The EPA filed its own suit in federal court in April 1991, seeking penalties of $25,000 per day for violations dating back to 1983. The state withdrew its suit and joined the federal action.

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