US Steel Fined for Air Pollution Violations
After reaching a consent agreement in June 2019 with The United States Steel Corporation, the Allegheny County Health Department announced earlier this month that the company was charged $743,625 in fines for more than 400 air pollution violations at its Clairton Coke Works plant in Clairton, Pennsylvania.
According to reports, the violations occurred between April and September 2019.
Used to produce iron and steel, Clairton Coke Works is reportedly the largest coke-producing plant in the U.S. and employs 1,200 workers. Clairton's 10 coke batteries contain 708 coke ovens, more than 6,300 potential coke gas emission points and produces roughly 4.3 million tons of coke annually.
On June 27, 2019, ACHD issued a settlement agreement and orders to U.S. Steel regarding emissions violations that occurred throughout the coke-making process at various batteries, ovens, transport ovens and combustion stacks at Clarion Coke Works.
However, issues with the plant date back to Dec. 24, 2018, after a fire destroyed the plant’s pollution control system, which resulted in a 100-day operation without the desulfurization equipment.
“Health officials: U.S. Steel faces $743,625 in fines for Clairton Coke Works violations.” https://t.co/1YTfDBJ40O— Mare (@Oaksgirl01) January 24, 2020
The emissions issues have been reported to be a focal point for clean air activists. A week prior to ACHD’s announcement of fines, roughly 100 Clairton residents and environmental activists held a rally in Downtown Pittsburgh to protest the region’s poor air quality at a county board health meeting.
"We thank the Allegheny County Health Department for its continued vigilance when it comes to U.S. Steel noncompliance with air quality regulations,” said Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. “However, the fines levied against U.S. Steel in this most recent order are for the same types of violations we've seen from the company for decades.
“The repeated nature of these violations is indicative of chronic operational failures and systemic subpar facility maintenance."
Matt Mehalik, Executive Director for the Breathe Project, adds that the coalition of more than three dozen environmental, educational and community groups plan to review the consent agreement in order to determine if more sanctions should be added and are even considering having the plant be place on “hot idle.”
Although the hot idle order would suspend coke production, it would still keep the coke ovens heated until the company fixed the emissions problems. U.S. Steel reports the endeavor would ultimately result in oven damage and a permanent shutdown of the damaged ovens or batteries.
What’s Happening Now
Of the $743,625 in fines U.S. Steel will pay for reoccurring pollution emissions, $669,262.50 will be paid to the Community Benefit Trust for impacted communities and the remaining 10% will go to the county Clean Air Fund.
As calculated by the health department’s agreement, the U.S. Steel will also be required to pay $2.73 million in as to settle four earlier county enforcement actions that the company previously appealed. The agreement also requires the company to spend $200 million to improve coke battery operations, including upgrades to emissions controls, plant infrastructure and maintenance.
Currently, U.S. Steel claims it has been committed to investing $1.2 billion in a modern steel mill caster and cogeneration facility and over the past five years, has spent more than $50 million annually in efforts to improve the environmental performance at Coke Works, Edgar Thomson and Irvin steel mills.
Amanda Malkowski, a U.S. Steel spokesperson, issued a statement saying the company is “reviewing the request for payment of stipulated penalties and is verifying that the data and demand are consistent with the conditions outlined in the June 2019 Settlement Agreement.”