A Pittsburgh man who served as the superintendent of a since-closed coke plant on the Lake Erie shore conspired to pollute the air for four years by tampering with measurements and directing his underlings to avoid monitoring requirements, a federal grand jury said last week.

Anthony Nearhoof, 41, was named along with his former company, Erie Coke Corp., in an eight-count indictment handed up under seal on Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

The case was unsealed Thursday when agents arrested Nearhoof.

He and the corporation are accused of conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Air Act, tampering with monitoring evidence and related offenses over a four-year span, from the fall of 2015 to December 2019, when the plant shut down after years of legal entanglements with regulators.

Federal prosecutors said Erie Coke and Nearhoof tampered with measurements on heating systems that emitted contaminants into the air, including benzene, toluene and xylene. The plant was on the lake shore near many private homes, public facilities, schools and a marina.

According to investigators from the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection and its state counterpart, Nearhoof was in charge and directed other plant supervisors and foremen to vent gases directly into the air to avoid the mandated monitoring system.

The indictment holds Erie Coke and its managers responsible for “covering up and lying to federal regulators and the public about their discharges,” said Jennifer Lynn, the agent in charge of the EPA’s mid-central area branch, in a statement.

Industrial operations at Erie Coke date to 1833. The plant began coke operations in 1925. Nearhoof started there in 2001 and worked his way up to superintendent in 2015. Another supervisor at the plant, identified only as Co-Conspirator A, worked at the plant from 2004 to 2018.

The accused conspirator supervised “heatermen” at the plant whose job was to remove flue caps to take measurements and maintain the heating system.

According to the indictment, Nearhoof “directed, instructed and pressured” Co-Conspirator A and others to open the flues to vent emissions in manner that bypassed the pollution control system. The grand jury said he gave the orders by radio to the other workers and sometimes in a logbook used by the battery foremen to relay instructions for various shifts at the plant.

Nearhoof and Co-Conspirator A also personally removed the flue caps, according to the charges.

Erie Coke had long battled the city of Erie and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which in the summer of 2019 said it would not renew the plant’s operating permit because of pollution violations.

The company shut down in December of that year.

Nearhoof was arraigned last Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy, who released him on a $10,000 bond. He faces up to five years in federal prison.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.