Bluestone Coke, formerly the Sloss Industries Coke Plant, Walter Coke, and ERP Compliant Coke, is a producer of metallurgical coke located at 3500 35th Avenue North. The plant makes use of a "destructive distillation process", heating coal in vertical slot ovens in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. The process releases volatile "coke oven gas," which the plant captures and processes to remove merchantable by-products (crude coal tar, light oil, and ammonium sulfate) and wastes, and then uses as fuel to power the plant.
In 2010 Walker Coke was listed among the largest sources of airborne particle emissions in Jefferson County, with 9,030 tons. Walter Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2015. Over the next years the plant operated a total of 120 ovens divided into three batteries.
On September 20, 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notified ERP Compliant Coke that it was being considered as "potentially responsible party" under the terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 for soil contamination documented at the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, encompassing parts of the Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont neighborhoods.
In 2019 ERP and its Birmingham coke plant were sold to Bluestone Mineral, Inc., which is owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. His son, Jay Justice, is the CEO and chair of Bluestone Resources, the parent of Bluestone Mineral, Inc.
Beginning in July 2020 the Jefferson County Department of Health documented airborne pollution from the Bluestone Coke plant in violation of local and federal limits. On July 15 the department issued a Notice of Violation to the company. After inspections of the plant in June and July 2021, the department determined that the plant constituted a "menace to the public health and public nuisance", and determined not to renew the company's Title V Air Permit. The JCDH also filed a civil suit claiming injunctive relief (closure of the plant) and civil penalties under the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971. Bluestone won a temporary injunction in August, but placed the plant on "hot idle" status in October, and then on a "cold idle" in November.
In December 2022 Bluestone Mineral agreed to a proposed consent decree under which it would pay a $925,000 penalty to the Jefferson County Board of Health, at least half of which would be used to fund community improvement projects. Bluestone would also be required to make significant improvements to the plant before it could reopen under a new permit, which would include monitoring sulfur dioxide emissions for five years. Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin criticized the settlement agreement, saying that it fell far short of bringing justice to citizens harmed, and urged the Health Department to deny a new operating permit.
- Vincente, Chloe (May 14, 2021) "North Birmingham coke plant violating air regulations as superfund cleanup continues." CBS42.com
- Vincente, Chloe (September 2, 2021) "Bluestone Coke allowed to continue operating despite strong objection from JCDH." CBS42.com
- Vincente, Chloe (November 24, 2021) "Birmingham coke plant owned by West Virginia governor has no license, multiple health violations." CBS42.com
- Blau, Max (December 12, 2022) "Wealthy Governor’s Company to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Chronic Air Pollution Violations" ProPublica
- Koplowitz, Howard (December 19, 2022) "Mayor urges county not renew Bluestone Coke permit; $925K fine for North Birmingham pollution ‘not justice’." AL.com