U.S. Steel fined $1.5 million and required to improve air pollution control | Environment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

U.S. Steel fined $1.5 million and required to improve air pollution control

Environmental advocates express "major concerns" for implementation of changes

click to enlarge U.S. Steel fined $1.5 million and required to improve air pollution control (2)
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
U.S. Steel will pay a $1.5 million penalty and “make extensive improvements” in response to air pollution violations at the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, according to a recent consent decree, the result of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Allegheny County Health Department’s lawsuit against the company. Earlier this year, U.S. Steel reported that its net earnings in the last quarter of 2021 topped $1 billion.

Early last week, the EPA and ACHD filed the lawsuit against U.S. Steel for violations of the Clean Air Act dating back to 2016 at their Braddock steelmaking plant. A consent decree is a settlement to a legal dispute that resolves a conflict without assigning guilt or liability.

A release from the EPA and ACHD also notes that air pollution violations at Edgar Thomson are “an area of potential environmental justice concern" because the percentage of “low-income” and “minority” people living within a one-mile radius of Edgar Thomson is above the state average.

“Too often we find that residents in closest proximity to contaminated lands are impacted by environmental injustice, suffering cumulative health impacts and economic distress,” says EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz. “Settlements like this serve notice to companies that they must follow the law to keep workers and neighbors healthy and safe.”

Aside from the $1.5 million penalty, the release says that U.S. Steel is also “required to make numerous improvements in training, monitoring, and work practices to increase compliance and timely response to air pollution. Additionally, the company is tasked with conducting studies on potential improvements to its pollution control systems.”

Patrick Campbell, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), is pleased the settlement imposes new training, monitoring, and reporting requirements, but criticizes the vague language regarding what comes next.

“Once the studies have been completed, it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll require and when EPA will demand implementation of changes,” Campbell tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “This leaves GASP with major concerns about when and if the consent decree will result in meaningful emissions reductions at the Edgar Thomson facility.”

However, Zachary Barber, clean air advocate with PennEnvironment, tells City Paper that the settlement may bode well for other groups, like his own, seeking accountability from U.S. Steel for other alleged violations.

Barber says the settlement “further documents the pervasive, longstanding nature of the compliance problems throughout U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities … U.S. Steel was forced to allow several outside auditors into ET to assess and overhaul its environmental compliance — the same remedy we are seeking for Clairton in our lawsuit because U.S. Steel has proven itself incapable of properly running and maintaining these plants on its own.”

A spokesperson from U.S. Steel says the company is dedicated to environmental stewardship.

“We believe, at this time, it is in the best interest of all parties to settle this matter and move forward with our environmental stewardship priorities,” says U.S. Steel spokesperson Amanda Malkowski. “US Steel and its more than 3,000 employees who live and work in Mon Valley communities remain committed to environmental stewardship and community partnership.”

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period, beginning Tue., May 24. A copy of the decree and information on how to submit comments can be found here.

“We hope residents seize this opportunity to voice their opinion on whether the deal does enough to hold U.S. Steel accountable for air pollution issues that have harmed their health and quality of life,” says Campbell. “GASP will be submitting comments and has committed to doing all we can to help amplify the voices and lived experiences of our neighbors in the Mon Valley."

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