The Sierra Club and several other groups are challenging the May ruling by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which changed the permit for a Dearborn plant owned by Severstal. The Russian company announced Monday it is selling the plant to AK Steel of West Chester, Ohio.
Severstal was awarded an air permit in 2006 to increase production and to install a new blast furnace and additional air pollution control equipment. The updated version would allow the factory to pollute at levels for which it had been cited more than 30 times in DEQ enforcement actions, the environmental groups said in their Wayne County Circuit Court suit.
"The grant of this permit by the state was hugely disappointing considering the facility's poor compliance history and the harmful and disproportionate health and environmental effects the plant's emissions continue to have on neighboring communities," said Stephanie Karisny, staff attorney at the Great Lakes Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which is representing the groups.
DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said the original permit's emission limits were based on computer modeling estimates that proved too low during "test burns" that measured actual output.
The new limits, although revised upward, are still below thresholds set under state and federal clean air laws, Wurfel said. Making such permit adjustments is a common regulatory practice nationwide, he added.
"We are confident in the department's permitting action at Severstal, and DEQ looks forward to seeing its process — and the result — discussed more accurately in the course of whatever proceedings await," Wurfel said.
A spokesman for AK Steel declined comment.
Environmentalists also have accused another state agency, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., of pressuring the DEQ to give Severstal a more lenient permit, a claim based on emails obtained by an attorney for a group of people living near the plant. Both agencies say the MEDC did nothing improper.