Air quality advocates urge county to add restrictions to U.S. Steel permit | Environment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Air quality advocates urge county to add restrictions to U.S. Steel permit

click to enlarge Air quality advocates urge county to add restrictions to U.S. Steel permit
CP Photo: Jordana Rosenfeld
Clairton Coke Works
Feb. 22 was a particularly bad day for air quality in the Mon Valley. Residents woke up to a morning weather inversion, when the atmosphere’s typical heat gradient (cold air on top of warm air) reverses itself, keeping pollutants close to the ground. During an inversion, warm air sitting above cool air works like a lid, trapping pollutants on the surface and causing a hazy combination of fog and smog.

Coincidentally, the same night, the Allegheny County Health Department held a public hearing at the Clairton Municipal Building (551 Ravensburg Blvd., Clairton) about an operating permit for one of the Mon Valley’s biggest polluters, U.S. Steel.
As the health department proposes the renewal of U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works permit, air quality advocates in the Mon Valley are urging ACHD to add additional restrictions to U.S. Steel’s operation.

The Mon Valley residents of environmental advocacy group Valley Clean Air Now argue that ACHD has been too lenient in their enforcement of U.S. Steel air quality violations in Clairton.

“Allowing USS Clairton Works to consistently violate their permit by issuing slap on the wrist fines and penalties is not protecting the health of residents,” says Germaine Gooden-Patterson, a Clairton resident active with Valley Clean Air Now, in a Feb. 22 release.

Valley Clean Air Now urges ACHD to take multiple actions with regard to U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works permit, including setting a definitive date for U.S. Steel to close the coke batteries 1, 2, and 3, which U.S. Steel publicly stated in April 2021 it would close, but has yet to do so. Other calls to action include increasing real-time monitoring of the plant so ACHD does not have to depend on U.S. Steel management to report emissions from the plant, banning coke production if pollution control equipment is inoperable (as occurred from December 2018 to April 2019), and requiring a plan to reduce emissions on days when pollution levels exceed federal standards, as required by ACHD’s Mon Valley Pollution Episode Rule.

"The environmental performance efforts of our dedicated employees at Clairton Plant continue to yield significant, measurable results," reads a statement from U.S. Steel sent to Pittsburgh City Paper on Feb. 23. "Efforts become reality when regulatory agencies work collaboratively with industry."

U.S. Steel says they submitted the Title V permit renewal application to the Allegheny County Health Department in 2016, and claims they were not given significant warning about new requirements ahead of the public hearing or comment period.

"After the application remained idle for over 5 years, U.S. Steel first became aware that ACHD intended to implement new, substantive requirements only three days before the 350-page draft permit was released for public comment," reads the statement.

They specifically name ACHD's creation of "approximately 320 new emission limits" that they say were not previously included in the existing permit.

"While we remain committed to working with ACHD on the issuance of a technically and legally sound Title V permit," the statement continues, "U.S. Steel is requesting that the unjustified and baseless emission limits and requirements be removed from the Title V Operating Permit."

City Paper reached out to the Allegheny County Health Department for comment, but, according to Public Health Information Officer Chris Togneri, it would be "inappropriate" for ACHD to comment at this time.

"The point of the Public Comment period is to listen, not to respond," says Togneri. "Out of respect for the progress, that's what we will do: Listen attentively to every voice."

After the public comment period ends, Togneri says ACHD will collect all written and oral public comments, and then prepare a "Comment/Response Document that includes a summary of all comments and ACHD responses."

"As for the status of the application," Togneri adds, "all comments will be fully considered prior to final action being taken."

The health department will be accepting public comment on their proposed renewal of U.S. Steel’s operating permit for the Clairton Coke Works until March 15. Comments can be mailed to 301 39th St., Pittsburgh, PA 15201 or emailed to [email protected].

UPDATE: This story has been updated at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 with comments from U.S. Steel and an embedded link to the Allegheny County Health Department public hearing, and again at 3 p.m. with additional comments from the Allegheny County Health Department.

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