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Allegheny County fines U.S. Steel nearly $2 million for air quality violations

  • By Betul Tuncer/WESA
U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant, the largest coke works in North America, in Clairton, Pa.

 Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant, the largest coke works in North America, in Clairton, Pa.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) issued a fine of $1.991 million to U.S. Steel on Monday for 362 operating permit violations at its Clairton Coke Works.

The health department’s order details violations that include failing to properly operate protective equipment, which is needed to prevent the release of harmful chemicals and fine particles into the air during the production of hot coke. The violations are for unlawful emissions from pushing operations, when hot coke is transferred, or pushed, out of ovens the company uses to refine it for steelmaking. Along with paying the fine, the county is also requiring U.S. Steel to submit a plan to attain compliance with its permit by eliminating violations within the next 30 days.

U.S. Steel officials said the company plans to appeal the order against the coke facility.

“U.S. Steel has made good faith efforts to work collaboratively with the Allegheny County Health Department,” company representatives wrote in an emailed statement to WESA. “Any pushing control equipment failures we experienced were fixed as quickly as possible and reported to ACHD along with our monthly emissions reports, in accordance with our Operating Permit. Environmental excellence is a top priority at all of our facilities.”

The most recent violations come after a previous fine of $2.2 million in December for violations of Pennsylvania’s limits on hydrogen sulfide pollution and a $42 million settlement in January. Filed by PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council, the Clean Air Act lawsuit settlement mandated that U.S. Steel pay a $5 million penalty and stemmed from a 2018 fire and pollution control system breakdown at the company’s Mon Valley Works facilities.

“Since December, U.S. steel has faced nearly $10 million in fines and penalties and that’s just in the last three months or so,” said Zachary Barber. “If we want to get to a place where, everyone has clean air to breathe here in Allegheny County and the Clairton Coke Works and U.S. Steel are fully complying with the Clean Air Act, we need to continue this trend of stronger enforcement with larger penalties and and legally binding mandates for U.S. steel to go in and fix the underlying issues at the facility.”

Barber, a clean air advocate with PennEnvironment, said the most recent fines against the company are a step in the right direction but emphasized the importance of ensuring U.S. Steel fixes underlying maintenance issues at its facilities.

“Our lawsuit uncovered evidence that they had known maintenance issues dating back decades that led to illegal pollution events and other cases. And so to ensure that they’re doing their part under the Clean Air Act and not jeopardizing people’s health. U.S. steel needs to fix the underlying maintenance issues at these facilities, which are old and leaky and dirty.”

Environmental activists have highlighted concerns and pollution issues coming out of U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley facilities for several years now. PennEnvironment’s Research and Policy Center ranks Clairton Coke Works as the most-toxic industrial air polluter in Allegheny County.

In addition to last month’s $42 million settlement, the company has racked up $14 million in fines since the beginning 2022 by the health department.

“Illegal pollution comes fast and furious from all corners of the Clairton Coke Works. And so it’s good to see enforcement action from Allegheny County moving to speed up,” Barber said. “To match that pace, we need to see more of this stuff to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe every day of the year.”

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