Updated: Dec 9, 2022
A public hearing on the proposed Settlement Agreement between U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department regarding emissions issues at the company’s Clairton Coke Works is slated for July 30—giving affected residents, environmentalists, and other interested parties an opportunity to have their say.
Here at GASP, part of our mission is educational in nature. A very important part of our job as an educator and watchdog is ensuring that our members and friends are armed with the information they need to feel comfortable speaking out on issues that are complex and somewhat technical. We get that standing up in public and delivering timed comments can be nerve-wracking.
That’s why we put together this guide, which will walk you through:
What you need to know about the agreement.
What parts of the agreement GASP and others are hopeful will help improve local air quality.
What parts we have concerns about—ones we believe you might share.
How the public hearing will be conducted, and guidelines for delivering a comment verbally.
How to submit a written comment to ACHD if you cannot attend the hearing.
Sample language to make your comments—whether they are delivered verbally or via email or snail mail—easier to prepare.
What You Need to Know About the Agreement
The proposed agreement between U.S. Steel and ACHD was announced June 28. The agreement addresses three enforcement orders and one administrative order that ACHD issued to U.S. Steel in 2018 and 2019 (see chart below).
While the agreement requires U.S. Steel to implement an emissions assessment and reduction plan that was submitted in 2018, it also includes new requirements.
The terms of the agreement call for myriad improvements to the plant. They include:
Repairs to batteries and improved battery operations designed to reduce fugitive and stack emissions
Installation of air curtains for Battery B. Air curtains are designed to improve the capture of fugitive emissions. Not sure what fugitive emissions are? No worries—here’s a primer.
Repairs to Battery 15’s oven walls in an effort to reduce leaks.
Improvements s to the baghouse filters for batteries 13, 14, 15, 19 and 20, which would help reduce emissions of particulate matter.
Replacement of Battery 15 stack—the new stack will be taller to increase the dispersal of emissions.
The rebuild of end flues for batteries 1, 2, and 3, which will also help reduce leaks.
The agreement also calls for increased transparency from U.S. Steel. It requires:
An annual audit of U.S. Steel by a third-party coke oven and air pollution control performance firm.
Expand its environmental improvement program—one that emphasizes to employees the importance of environmental performance—and include regular reports on achievements.
Enhance transparency of both operations and maintenance procedures with regular reporting to ACHD.
The agreement also includes community benefit provisions. Here’s how it breaks down:
U.S. Steel will pay all fines related to the 2018 and 2019 enforcement orders —$2.73 million.
Of that money, 90 percent (or about $2.46 million) will go into a community benefit trust for impacted communities.
The remaining 10 percent (or about $273,250) will be earmarked for ACHD’s Clean Air Fund
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Unknowns
Since the June 28 unveiling of the agreement, GASP staff has given an exhaustive review of the terms of the agreement, and have concluded that there are parts of it that are good, parts we have concerns about, and parts that we believe lack appropriate data, information, or explanation.
Let’s start with the good stuff:
We are supportive of planned investments and upgrades to U.S. Steel’s facilities, and are hopeful that the improvements will lead to increased compliance with air quality regulation that would ultimately translate into cleaner air for residents and workers alike.
We are generally supportive of increased transparency efforts.
We are generally supportive of the lion’s share of the fine money being earmarked for projects that benefit the communities most impacted by the ongoing air quality issues related to the company’s compliance deficiencies.
That all said, we have some concerns:
The Settlement Agreement could be used to try to prevent ACHD from promulgating new regulations that are needed to reduce pollution from the plant.
The Settlement Agreement proposes to create a Community Advisory Panel but gives them no authority or defined role other than to meet regularly. The Agreement does not include any requirement that U.S. Steel or ACHD act on the community members’ findings or concerns.
The Settlement Agreement does not specify the criteria for the projects that will be funded by Community Benefit Trust. The individual projects do not need to be defined at this point but the Agreement must require that the projects will follow ACHD’s guidance on supplemental environmental projects.
The Settlement Agreement named the communities of Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, and Port Vue as “beneficiaries” of the Trust but failed to define the parties within those communities that will be able to propose projects or seek benefits directly. Will it include community groups, school districts, municipal governments, health care providers, private businesses, etc.?
Other essential details of the Trust are missing such as the entity that will administer it, the method of dolling out the benefits, target dates for beginning the process, and how the trust will operate as funds run low.
This Agreement follows decades of similar agreements that were intended to solve emissions issues at the Clairton Works but failed. Coke batteries that were slated to be closed in prior settlement agreements are still operating. ACHD cannot assure the affected communities that agreements alone will get Clairton Coke into compliance.
About the Public Hearing (And How to Sign Up to Speak)
The public hearing is slated for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 30 at the Clairton Municipal Building, but those who wish to deliver a public comment verbally must sign up to do so by Monday, July 29. Each speaker will have 3 minutes to deliver their comments.
Signing up is easy. You can either:
Call ACHD at 412-578-8103, or
Just as a note: This public hearing is designed to obtain public comment. ACHD noted that it is not a time for back-and-forth, and no questions will be taken or answered.
Some Help Prepping Your Comments
We know: That was a LOT of info but don’t worry too much about all the technical details. The most important thing you’ll add to this process is you. Only you can speak to how Clairton Coke has impacted you, your family, and your community. ACHD and U.S. Steel need to hear how you feel this Settlement Agreement will affect you.
If you’re still stymied over what to say in your comments—written or verbal—here’s some sample language that might help you.
Comments can be delivered via snail mail by addressing them to Allegheny County Health Department
Air Quality, 301 39th Street, Bldg #7, Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1811. They can be faxed to 412-578-8144 or emailed to email@example.com.
Comments are due July 31.
Dear Allegheny County Health Department,
My name is ____________. I am a resident of ____________ and I am writing today to formally comment on the settlement agreement between U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department.
I believe we all deserve clean air, and that people who live in Clairton and surrounding communities have for too long had to endure illegal emissions from U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works.
While I am supportive of the terms of the agreement that call for U.S. Steel to:
pay a more than $2.7 million fine, with 90 percent of that money being earmarked for a trust to benefit Clairton and surrounding communities
make significant plant and equipment upgrades designed to decrease energy consumption and increase compliance with clean air regulations
increase transparency by agreeing to an independent, third-party audit of their facilities and coke-making operations
However, I also have concerns about many parts of the agreement, including:
A lack of clarity regarding the role and authority of the proposed Community Advisory Panel, and the fact that there is no requirement that U.S. Steel and/or ACHD actually act on its recommendations.
A lack of clarity over how projects can and will be funded through the proposed Community Trust. I believe that projects funded through this trust should follow ACHD’s guidelines on supplemental environmental projects.
While the agreement lists the communities that will benefit from the proposed Community Trust, it fails to define who in the community will be able to propose projects or seek benefits directly. The agreement also fails to identify other key information related to the trust, such as who will administer it, and how the money in the trust will be doled out.
The agreement follows decades of similar agreements intended to resolve emissions issues at the Clairton Works but failed. Coke batteries that were slated to be closed in prior settlement agreements are still operating. ACHD cannot assure the affected communities that agreements alone will get Clairton Coke into compliance.
The agreement could be used to try to prevent ACHD from promulgating new regulations that are needed to reduce pollution from the plant, which is a huge concern.
I encourage ACHD to continue to demand that U.S. Steel comply with clean air regulations and continue to take strong enforcement actions in the future should compliance slip in the future.