The scheduled shutdown of Tonawanda Coke comes after a decade of complaints and protests for cleaner air in the area.
Activists say it’s a victory for lawmakers and environmentalists who began collecting air samples in 2004 and got New York State involved.
As a result of community organizing, the plant was raided in 2009 and cited for environmental health violations.
On Friday, Tonawanda Coke contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation and said they are unable to pay air permit fees and legally operate the plant.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “For too long, Tonawanda Coke has been a mismanaged blight on this community, and its owners will be held accountable for any damage to this community and the environment. We are directing the company to open their doors and take all appropriate steps to protect this community during their shutdown. DEC experts will be a constant, on-site presence to ensure public safety, and we demand TCC provide all information necessary to fully secure the site. After the plant is safely shuttered, a comprehensive investigation of any potential contamination will be launched to safeguard the Tonawanda community.”
The Clean Air Coalition of Western New York is calling on the state to put aside Tonawanda Coke's fine money to help employees transition and for remediation.
"Today is a little taste of justice for the little kids that were struggling for air to breathe on playgrounds during asthma attacks and families like mine who are still grieving their loved ones who passed away from cancer and lost their battles and for the communities that are reeling in righteous anger and tears," said Emily Terrana, Clean Air Coalition Western New York Board member.
The Department of Labor plans to step in to help employees get affordable benefits while they transition.
Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, “While not unexpected, the Department of Labor stands ready to help the workers who have lost their livelihood because of this negligent company’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of the community. Starting with the change of shift Monday morning, our team will be on the ground meeting with displaced workers. We’ll be here for as long as we’re needed to help these men and women access the benefits they need and, most importantly, find them new jobs.”