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Residents Tell Allegheny Co. Health Dept: Put Our Health Above Industry Profits with Strong Permits

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

The message was delivered again and again by residents during the more than 90-minute hearing: U.S. Steel needs to clean up its act, and the health department needs to make sure they do it through permits that are as protective of public health as possible.  

More than two dozen residents made remarks Monday morning at Allegheny County Health Department’s virtual public hearing regarding myriad air quality permits – among them draft installation permits for U.S. Steel’s cogeneration plan, PEC Baghouse replacement, and Endless Casting and Rolling facility.

While GASP submitted formal technical comments to ACHD, our Executive Director Rachel Filippini also spoke out at the hearing – here’s what she had to say:

Good morning.My name is Rachel Filippini and I am the Executive Director of Group Against Smog and Pollution.
Later today we will submit written comments addressing the draft installation permits for US Steels’ Cogeneration Plant, PEC Baghouse replacement, and Endless Casting and Rolling facility. 
I am here speaking to you now to highlight a few issues we raised in those comments.Our overarching concern is that ACHD must ensure these projects improve or – at the very least – not harm air quality in the Mon Valley. 
According to emissions calculations in the Cogen and ECR project permits, it appears there will be a reduction in US Steel’s emissions of SO2 and NOx across the Mon Valley.  That is promising, but these projects are also predicted to increase emissions of ammonia and volatile organic compounds. 
In addition, both PM10 and PM2.5 might increase or decrease slightly depending on changes at Irvin Works.For these projects, the emissions increases might not be significant enough to trigger stricter emissions controls but they are increases all the same, and they are occurring in an area of the County plagued by poor air quality. 
Our written comments request revisions to or additional details for certain figures where emissions calculations might not have been conducted properly or fully explained.  While permits do not contain public health warnings, ACHD has an obligation to explain to the public how – or if –emissions increases will impact air quality and public health.
Related to emissions increases, we are especially concerned that the ECR permit does not require a compliance plan.  We read Article 21 as requiring any facility seeking an installation permit for a project that will increase emissions be fully in compliance with both its permit and all applicable air quality regulations. 
The ECR project will result in a net increase of SO2, PM10, and PM2.5 emissions at Edgar Thomson.  Currently, the Air Quality Program’s Compliance Status Report on its website lists Edgar Thomson as “Non-Complaint.”  Given the issues that have been occurring at ET intermittently and the lack of finality on issues dating back to 2017, ACHD must demand compliance with existing requirements before allowing new construction.Of course, ACHD has enforcement discretion and we understand that a project with some emissions benefits shouldn’t be rejected outright. 
But ACHD should not use that discretion to give US Steel the benefit of the doubt or trust that issues will be worked through diligently over time.Many years ago, the demise of the “promised” battery D at Clairton provided a troubling precedent for US Steel’s commitment to major facility upgrades. 
It appears that could happen again. 
During US Steel’s quarterly earnings call this past January, the company suggested at least the Cogen and ECR projects will be on hold for a time.  ACHD cannot plan for every contingency but we believe you must now demand full and strict compliance from US Steel and an enforceable plan to get there.  
In May 2019 US Steel announced the Cogen and ECR projects “exemplify” the company’s “continued commitment to conserve resources and improve air quality in the Mon Valley.” 
It seems to us meeting its existing commitments is something US Steel cannot avoid any longer. 

While the public hearing may be over, there’s still time to submit written comments on the proposed air quality permits and make your voice heard – specifically regarding issues with the proposed PEC Baghouse project. 

We are making that as easy as possible for you: Our attorneys broke it all down in layman’s terms on our blog, where we also have sample language and a form that auto-routes your comments straight to ACHD. 

What are you waiting for? Deadline to speak out is 4 p.m.

“We want to thank everyone who has taken the time to share their comments with ACHD about these proposed air quality permits,” Filippini said. “That’s the only way things change: Through strong, sustained concerned citizenry.”

#airpollution #MonValleyairquality #USSteel #PECbaghouse #emissions #AlleghenyCountyHealthDepartment #ACHD #airquality

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