Two area environmental groups—PennEnvironment and Clean Air Council—on Monday announced that they had filed suit against U.S. Steel, which they say violated the Clean Air Act at its three Pittsburgh-area plants.
These include Clairton Coke Works, the largest coke oven facility in North America. Violations occurred throughout the company’s Mon Valley Works, stemming from its decision to operate the plants for more than three months without critical pollution control equipment, according to a press release.
“It is unacceptable that U.S. Steel ran these plants without essential pollution controls, claiming there was no safe alternative,” said Ashleigh Deemer, the Western PA director with PennEnvironment. “No one, including U.S. Steel, should be allowed to jeopardize our health by running what amounts to a doomsday machine with no off-switch.”
The lawsuit alleges that U.S. Steel’s three facilities, located south of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River, showered residents with unlawful air pollution. This pollution included emissions of sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant) at levels many times higher than the legal maximum. The plants likely also emitted higher levels of volatile organic compounds such as benzene, a carcinogen.
“U.S. Steel has a responsibility to remedy the harm to the community and prevent this situation from happening again,” said Christopher Ahlers, a staff attorney with Clean Air Council.
The Clean Air Act citizen suit was filed April 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, following a pre-suit notice to U.S. Steel and local, state, and federal agencies on Feb. 13, 2019.
The groups are seeking a court order requiring U.S. Steel to comply with its air quality permits and make changes to prevent this situation from happening again. They are also calling for an order requiring U.S. Steel to remediate the harm it has caused to local communities, as well as civil penalties to punish the company for past air quality violations and deter future violations.
The Clairton Coke Works ranked third in PennEnvironment’s Toxic Ten study of the worst industrial polluters in the region, published in 2015. The facility has a long history of violating the Clean Air Act, having been penalized more than $2 millionin just the past year for a different set of air pollution violations.
The other two facilities (the Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock and Irvin Works in West Mifflin) are steelmaking facilities that use materials produced at the Clairton plant. They were burning the coke oven gas without essential pollution controls.
“When I realized our small town regularly had the worst air in the country, I felt it was my duty to speak up for our right to clean air,” said Melanie Meade, of Clairton. “U.S. Steel needs to show that it will protect the community and ensure that Clairton has a bright, healthy future”
Last week, Allegheny County’s chronic air pollution problems were highlighted by the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report, which identified a worsening problem for fine particulates and ozone in the county, compared with last year’s report.
A recent report by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found that Pittsburgh suffered from poor air quality one in three days.
This suit comes on the heels of a similar lawsuit brought by PennEnvironment and the National Environmental Law Center that resulted in a $1.5 million penalty against another regional coke manufacturer, in what is believed to be the largest Clean Air Act citizen settlement in Pennsylvania history.
U.S. Steel is headquartered in Chicago. In 2018, its adjusted net earnings were $957 million.