MIE still to face civil suit over emission violations

A three-year-old civil case against Marietta Industrial Enterprises will be reopened now that a federal criminal case against the company for air emissions violations is essentially resolved.

Filed by the Ohio Attorney General’s office in August 2010, the suit alleges at least 26 different counts stemming from the same violations that triggered the federal case.

“The complaint…alleged multiple violations of Marietta Industrial Enterprises’ Title V permit which has to do with air emissions,” said Kate Hanson, public information officer with the attorney general.

The complaint was put on hold while a federal criminal case against the company and company president Scott Elliott was resolved.

When the company pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to a felony count of failing to report violations of its permit, Elliott also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of being an accessory.

Elliott did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Per a plea agreement, which still needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley, MIE will pay $50,000 in restitution and Elliot will spend 48 hours in jail and nearly six months on house arrest.

The resolution of the federal case means the attorney general’s office will now notify Washington County Common Pleas Court to reopen the civil case, though there is no hard time frame for doing so, said Hanson.

According to the initial filing in the suit, the violations started in January of 2005 and MIE could be penalized up to $25,000 per violation per day. Some violations, such as failure to conduct emissions testing on certain pieces of equipment, spanned multiple years and all told the company could technically face billions of dollars in fines.

However, any monetary judgment will ultimately be up to the court, said Hanson.

According to MIE’s legal counsel, Whitnie Kropp, the company plans on defending against the allegations.

“The company has been defending the allegations contained in the complaint and plans to continue (doing so),” said Kropp.

The company has taken steps to correct all of the violations, she added.

MIE has retained outside counsel to defend the case-Steptoe & Johnson PLLC.

Counsel for the firm did not return a call seeking comment.

According to a joint release from the Ohio Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s offices regarding the related federal case, part of MIE’s violations related to employees turning off a large fan that controlled emissions when operating a medium carbon ferromanganese alloy crushing line.

Few studies have been done about the health effects of manganese and ferromanganese, but enough is known to cause the state and federal environmental protection agencies to put requirements in place regarding its use, said Eric Fitch, chair of the Department of Biology and Environmental Science at Marietta College.

“If you’re going to work with these materials, this is what you have to do to make sure we control the amount released into the environment…That’s why we have regulation. It keeps the possibility of harm to at least being reduced,” he said.

MIE said the fan had been turned off when processing materials that presented a combustion hazard but that workers put alternative pollution control measures in place instead.

Of the 26 counts contained in the civil suit, alleged are: failure to comply with visible particle emissions limitations, failure to employ required control measures, failure to comply with record keeping requirements, failure to comply with reporting requirements, failure to report a malfunction of control equipment, violations of baghouse pressure drop restriction of permit terms, violations of testing requirements, failure to comply with terms of conditions of Title V emissions testing, failure to comply with Title V compliance certification, and causing or allowing open burning.

If any money is ultimately awarded in the case, it would typically go to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, with some of it possibly covering attorney fees, said Hanson.