Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Emissions from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in North Braddock have fouled Mon Valley skies for decades and for years the facility has been the subject of an enforcement action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Allegheny County Health Department because of ongoing air quality violations.
But now, residents have just days left before the June 23 deadline to speak out on the end result: A proposed consent decree that would impose a $1.5 million penalty and details everything from recent maintenance and operations improvements made at Edgar Thomson to required future compliance initiatives.
GASP staff examined the 157-page document and crafted a lengthy, comprehensive FAQ document exploring and explaining the various elements of the proposed decree. You can read that blog, which includes sample public comment language as well as a simple online comment submission form, right here.
But we understand life is busy, so we’re offering up a kind of Cliffs Notes version that lays out five simple reasons you should take a minute (yep, that’s all it takes!) to tell the court how YOU feel about the proposed settlement.
Reason #1: Public Input Matters (& Has Been Specifically Requested)
We – GASP, residents, and fellow environmental advocates – have waited more than four years for details about how regulators would force U.S. Steel to comply with air pollution rules.
Now we have details AND an invite to weigh in so it’s paramount regulators hear from the residents who were directly and indirectly impacted by Edgar Thomson emissions and who will be directly and indirectly impacted by the terms of the proposed deal.
The consent decree states:
The United States reserves the right to withdraw or withhold its consent if the comments regarding the Consent Decree disclose facts or considerations indicating that the Consent Decree is inappropriate, improper, or inadequate.
And in many ways, the proposed settlement is inappropriate, improper, and inadequate. We hope you’ll help us seize the opportunity to demand better.
Reason #2: The Proposed Consent Decree is Promises-Heavy & Guarantee-Light
The consent decree mandates that U.S. Steel hire third-party contractors to conduct studies of key pieces of emissions-control equipment in order to “ensure continued compliance with ACHD Rules and Regulations.”
Missing, though, from the proposed consent decree is language that would guarantee that the approved projects will result in meaningful emissions reductions at the Edgar Thomson facility.
Reason #3: There Are *Major* Transparency Issues
GASP is glad to see U.S. Steel is being tasked with studying the feasibility of future improvements and sets an aggressive timeline for the completion of studies and associated projects but we have transparency and accountability concerns.
That’s because there’s nothing in the document to require the EPA and/or ACHD to provide the public with updates related to all those projects, audits, and deadlines. We vehemently believe the decree should mandate the agencies create a public clearinghouse so residents can review everything from documents to deadlines.
“Residents went more than four years without an update from their air quality regulators on what was being done to protect them from illegal emissions,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “We believe EPA and ACHD need to do better moving forward to ensure residents who have a right to know remain in the know.”
Reason #4: Allegheny County’s Proposed Use for its Share of the Fine Money is Concerning
Under the terms of the proposed consent decree, U.S. Steel must pay a $1.5 million fine to be split evenly between the EPA and ACHD – and we have concerns about how Allegheny County intends to use its portion: It’s $750,000 share will go toward the creation of a multimodal connection that links the Great Allegheny Passage in Rankin Borough to the Westmoreland Heritage Trail in Trafford Borough through the Turtle Creek Valley.
Initiatives like this are known as Supplemental Environmental Projects or SEPs, which are projects or activities that improve, protect, or reduce the risk to public health or the environment, and that are not otherwise required by law. Generally, GASP supports both SEPs and multi-modal trail projects.
HOWEVER, the SEP proposed in this consent decree is concerning for several reasons.
We’re not aware of ACHD, EPA, or U.S. Steel reaching out to local community groups to gauge interest in this or any SEP, which we think is plainly insulting to people who’ve suffered FOR YEARS from Edgar Thomson emissions.
Ironically, one of the factors ACHD must consider with a SEPs is whether it was “developed with active solicitation and consideration of community input.”
Its SEP policy also says “the Department has the discretion to allow a 100 percent mitigation of the penalty amount if the SEP will provide an exceptional public health or environmental benefit.”
We’re here to tell you this SEP can in no way be considered “exceptional.”
Reason #5: The Clock is Ticking
The deadline to submit a public comment – June 23 – is quickly approaching.
Ready to weigh in? Use our simple form below that automatically routes your comments to the Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division for review. Not quite sure what exactly to say? No problem: We put together some sample comment language you can use and supplement:
Editor's Note: The public comment period is now closed. THANK YOU to all who submitted comments!