By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — Severstal was awarded a revised permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to continue to emit its current level of pollutants into the air.
The new permit, which was announced May 12, allows Severstal to double its carbon monoxide emissions, allow for PM10, or fine-particle dust, emissions to rise between two and five times and lead emissions to increase hundreds of times, though both MDEQ and Severstal officials have indicated that the permit will not actually allow an increase in pollution, but will more accurately reflect what the plant has been emitting since 2006 when the initial permit was issued.
Severstal officials issued a statement the following day stating that the permit revision was “welcome.” They added that “there will not be any increase in emissions from the plant as a result of this new permit correction.”
The permit does not come without controversy though, an estimated 200 people showed up for a MDEQ hearing on the matter in March at the Henry Ford College east campus M-Tec auditorium and many gathered for a protest at the American Moslem Society, 9945 W. Vernor Hwy., last week.
Resident complaints centered on health issues associated with fallout, smoke and other emissions from the plant.
In a release regarding the decision, MDEQ Air Quality Division Chief Vince Hellwig said that although the MDEQ has issued 38 notices of violation to Severstal since 2010, the decision making process involved the future, not the past.
“The enforcement is about yesterday,” Hellwig said. “The permit we announce today is about tomorrow, and we are pleased to finally have a clear, reliable permit for one of the state’s largest industrial operations.”
Hellwig had the final say on the permit and stated that the decision was reached after considering all of Severstal’s information plus public comments attained through MDEQ’s website and from the forum at HFC.
He said the new permit will enhance the emission and operational monitoring requirements and expand testing requirements for the plant moving forward.
The plant is at 4001 Miller Road on part of the former Rogue Steel complex and it employs about 1,400 people.
The permit announcement also came less than two weeks after two local state representatives called
for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and oversee the permitting process and subsequent compliance.
Reps. George T. Darany (D-Dearborn) and Rashida H. Tlaib (D-Detroit) called for the oversight, and Darany, the minority vice chairman of the House Health Policy Committee, said air quality and the environment in general should be top priority for every party involved.
“We need to be doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of our citizens,” Darany said in a press release. “I certainly understand that good-paying jobs are critical to our state, but it is imperative that we work together with the businesses in our community to follow the guidelines and rules established to protect our citizens and the future of this state.”
Following the decision by the MDEQ, Tlaib said she was “sickened” by the permit renewal.
“Organizations and public servants are turning their backs away from their true mission,” Tlaib said. “They are supposed to be protecting the families they serve. The decision yesterday by the state to allow Severstal to continue to pollute was inhumane and put a corporation’s interests over people.”
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected].)