Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Allegheny County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion of council that endorses recent enforcement actions undertaken by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) intended to foster compliance with existing air quality regulations for the good of public health—especially as it relates to U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works.
The motion, introduced by Councilwoman Anita Prizio, “makes explicitly clear its backing of the Allegheny County Health Department’s health-based air quality regulatory actions that aim to bring U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant and Clairton Coke Works facilities into compliance for the good of public health, as well as its mandate to oversee the reduction or outright elimination of risks to air quality.”
By approving the motion, council “commits itself to supporting its residents in their fight for cleaner, healthier, and more breathable air,” the document reads.
The motion of council comes in the wake of two high-profile fires at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, both of which knocked out essential pollution-control devices. It also comes as the public awaits the finalization of a settlement agreement between U.S. Steel and ACHD addressing three enforcement orders and an administrative order from 2018-19.
The proposed agreement, which was the subject of a public hearing that garnered numerous comments, calls for U.S. Steel to pay a $2.7 million fine—with 90 percent of that money benefiting a community trust. It also calls for numerous facility upgrades designed to help bring and keep the facilities into compliance with air emissions standards.
By approving the measure, council echoed concerns made by not only residents and environmental organizations but also Pittsburgh City Council, which in July passed a similar will of council.
GASP staff attorney Ned Mulcahy spoke at the meeting, where he asked members of council to support the motion.
“This council exercises immense control over the Air Quality Program by approving the Health Department’s budget, as well as all changes made to the Air Quality Program’s regulations. I believe from the outset, it is imperative that Council understands it has the power and duty to help protect the air quality that 1.2 million residents of Allegheny County breathe…and we need your help,” he said.
“As the motion notes, Allegheny County residents are subjected to air that the American Lung Association gives failing grades across the board. Throughout the County, fine particulate matter exceeds the EPA-limit and a significant portion of the Mon Valley fails to meet EPA’s standard for sulfur dioxide levels. This is a black eye for a region as well as a legitimate public health crisis.”
Following the vote, Prizio noted why she introduced the motion.
“After watching how U.S. Steel has engaged in prolonged legal battles with the Allegheny County Health Department, I fear other polluters may venture down a similar path of aggressively appealing robust enforcement actions and then eventually settling,” Prizio said. “When these things happen, the region’s air quality and all who breath our air suffer. ACHD must not shirk its responsibility of enforcing clean air laws and holding the industrial polluters—which often put profit over people—accountable to their workers and to their communities.”
Jay Walker, a field organizer with Clean Air Council, also spoke in favor of the motion, imploring council to “do whatever they need to do” to bring industrial polluters into compliance with clean air regulations.
Rachel Filippini, executive director for the Group Against Smog and Pollution, thanked Prizio and members of council who supported the motion.
“We applaud Allegheny County Council and Councilwoman Prizio for adding their voices to the chorus of people who are demanding accountability in the wake of not just months, but years of U.S. Steel being noncompliant with air pollution regulations,” Filippini said.
“Pittsburgh’s come a long way from the days when smog choked our city skyline, but we still have so much work to do. GASP is hopeful that with partners like Ms. Prizio and her colleagues on council, we are moving even more quickly in the right direction.”
The motion also received support from environmental organizations not in attendance Tuesday, including PennEnvironment.
“Today’s motion from Allegheny County Council sends a clear message to illegal polluters: protect public health or expect real consequences,” said Zachary Barber, Field Organizer, with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “Since we’ve already seen pushback from polluters over stronger enforcement efforts from the Health Department, it’s great that Councilwoman Prizio and other members of council are supporting clean air efforts.”