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United States v. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

Citation: 17 ELR 20750
No. No. 86-3456, 818 F.2d 1077/25 ERC 2017/(3d Cir., 03/18/1987)

The court holds that the district court abused its discretion and erred as a matter of law by modifying a consent decree between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation (Wheeling), relieving Wheeling of its obligation to meet particulate matter emissions limitations by the end of 1985 at its West Virginia steel recycling plant. The district court amended the decree based on Wheeling's application for a "bubble" permit and other "unique hardships" incurred by the plant. The court holds that the district court's modification order temporarily staying Wheeling's emissions compliance deadline and strategy is a final appealable order, whether viewed as an indefinite stay or an amendment of the consent decree. The court holds that the December 31, 1985, deadline for meeting the particulate standard imposed by the Steel Industry Compliance Extension Act (SICEA) is strict and a court does not have equitable discretion to extend the time for compliance past this date. The court rules that Wheeling is not relieved of its obligations under the consent decree to meet its compliance deadlines merely because it has a pending "bubble" application, and any modification of the decree on this basis is an error of law. The court holds that the changed circumstances of Wheeling's filing for bankruptcy, suffering a 98-day strike, and incurring severe financial losses do not relieve it of its obligations to comply with the terms of the consent decree. Enforcement of environmental protection laws are part of the state's police power and are not stayed by the Bankruptcy Code. The court holds that economic infeasibility is not a proper basis for staying compliance with the Clean Air Act and SICEA, although if properly presented, the effect of the strike may be considered under the terms of the consent decree. The court holds that such modification is warranted only by nothing less than a clear showing of a grievous wrong evoked by new and unforeseen conditions.

[The briefs of the parties are digested at ELR PEND. LIT. 65933.]

Counsel for Appellant
Jacques B. Gelin
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2762

Counsel for Appellee
David J. Armstrong
Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote
Suite 400, Two PPG Place, Pittsburgh PA 15222-5402
(412) 281-7272

Before Mansmann and Scirica, JJ.