If reading that headline gave you a “déjà vu all over again” sort of feeling, it’s probably because the issue of the Clairton Coke Works air quality operating permit – called a Title V permit – has been in the GASP and local enviro headlines a lot over the past two years.
For better or worse – more on that below – the permit is back in the air quality headlines, and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is seeking public comment on a few specific portions of the 311-page document.
ACHD is also hosting an opportunity to provide testimony at a public hearing slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10 at the Clairton Municipal Building. GASP will be in attendance to testify and stand in solidarity with residents and fellow advocates calling for accountability. We will also be submitting formal comments by the Jan. 18 deadline.
We hope folks can join us Wednesday in Clairton to support our friends in the Mon Valley, who have suffered thanks to toxic emissions from their giant corporate neighbor. Head on over to the ACHD website to sign up to provide a public comment and/or get the skinny on how to attend the hearing.
If you’d like a little more information on why this déjà vu redo happened in the first place and some details about the permit’s deficiencies, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s what you need to know…
QUICKLY, WHAT IS A TITLE V PERMIT?
A Title V permit is a snapshot that includes all emissions limits and standards to which an emissions source is subject, as well as all operating, monitoring, and reporting requirements that apply at the time the permit is issued.
By including all requirements in one document, these permits help source operators comply with those regulations. They also help regulators and members of the public enforce those requirements–all with the ultimate goal of reducing air pollution.
GASP maintains a Title V permit clearinghouse, showing permits for sources in the area. If you’d like to learn more, check it out here.
But it’s worth noting that Title V permits don’t create new rules or standards. We know the mishmash of cross-references in permits is anything but clear, but the permit needs to point to an existing law, regulation, court order, agreement, etc., for all its terms.
HOW DID CLAIRTON COKE’S TITLE V PERMIT REAPPEAR ON THE RADAR?
On Jan. 13, 2022, ACHD published a draft Title V permit open to public comment for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. It was a long time coming: U.S. Steel applied to renew the permit in 2016.
Many groups and individuals added their two cents, and after reviewing the input, on Nov. 21, 2022, ACHD issued the permit, but there were two more legal hurdles to clear before the permit was officially official.
First, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to review the permit and give its blessing to proceed with it as issued. In November 2022, the EPA did just that.
Second, groups and individuals who commented on the permit but did not see the changes they expected had a right to appeal the permit. In March 2023, GASP did just that.
Specifically, our petition argued that the Title V permit failed to include a compliance schedule, which is required by the Clean Air Act when a facility is out of compliance with emission standards or other permit requirements at the time a Title V permit is issued.
Importantly, a separate petition filed by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), PennFuture, and Clean Air Council, argued that the Title V permit did not include monitoring and testing requirements sufficient to assure compliance with multiple air quality emissions limitations for many processes throughout the facility.
This might strike you as a bit odd, but those petitions went to the EPA, the exact agency that in November 2022 already approved the permit. But give the EPA credit: In Sept. 2023, the agency issued an order granting almost all of the groups’ claims related to testing, monitoring, and reporting requirements as well as GASP’s claim regarding a compliance schedule.
The order required ACHD to revise the Title V permit and/or the permit record in accordance with its decision, and just before festive season 2023, ACHD published a revised Title V permit for review.
WHY THE TITLE V PERMIT NEEDS YOU
First, there is a very important wrinkle to this comment period compared to others: ACHD is only interested in hearing input on the revised sections of the Tite V permit, not the entire permit. If you had your heart set on reviewing all 311 pages of the permit, sorry. Them’s the rules.
On the bright side, ACHD documented every single change in a 25-page memo. It’s not light reading, but it’s not 311 pages.
As for those changes, there are a lot of them, and many address the technical aspects of complying with the EPA’s order to ACHD. For example, U.S. Steel must now monitor the oxygen content of the Boiler No. 2 flue gas within 3% of the measured value and be recorded to the nearest 0.1%.
That might be a bit in the weeds to address in the three minutes speakers are allotted at public hearings, but if you’re up for it, have at it.
GASP will be focusing on the compliance plan EPA ordered ACHD to create because we’re pretty sure ACHD didn’t do what the EPA put in its order.
To summarize, the EPA told ACHD to:
Identify specific non-compliance issues
Come up with remedial measures designed to lead to compliance and
Put U.S. Steel on a schedule for those remedial measures, including an enforceable sequence of actions with milestones
The draft Title V permit has a new Compliance Plan Requirement, but there isn’t a clear statement of what processes at Clairton Coke were non-compliant.
We appreciate that Clairton Coke is a large, complex facility, but ACHD could have at least listed the processes that led to U.S. Steel racking up nearly $15 million in fines over the past five years (and that’s just the fines related to the 2019 settlement, the 2022 pushing emissions order, and the h2s exceedances orders from 2022 and 2023).
The compliance plan measures also appear to borrow heavily from OSHA regs, which we’re pretty sure already applied to the facility, and the milestones are a bit murky.
Ultimately, the details of the compliance schedule also are bit too in the weeds to get into in three minutes, but the point we hope to make at the hearing is that ACHD must demand U.S. Steel clean up its act.
The law is clear: If U.S. Steel wants to make coke in Clairton, there must be a plan to get the full facility fully compliant with applicable requirements.