Rule fight key to meeting air-quality standard
By Jason Cato
Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Allegheny County health officials believe efforts to upgrade U.S. Steel Corp.'s Clairton Coke Works are enough to meet federal air quality standards if a federal court upholds a rule to reduce fine particulates that drift into Pennsylvania.
An 84-page draft report from the county Health Department released Wednesday said the Liberty-Clairton area could comply with short-term pollution standards by 2014 with help from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule — an Environmental Protection Agency plan that a U.S. appellate court struck down in August. Another appeal is under way.
“At this point, our best estimate is that it will be upheld,” said Jim Thompson, the county's Air Program Manager.
The county plans to ask its health board at its January meeting to approve a public hearing and comment period on the draft report.
The board this month adopted more stringent air toxics guidelines that also are intended to reduce industrial air pollutants but are unrelated to the particulates plan.
As much as 70 percent of the region's fine particulate matter pollution comes from coal-fired plants in Ohio and other Midwestern states, Thompson said.
Reducing that amount is imperative to attaining compliance with 24-hour maximums of 35 micrograms per cubic meter, he said.
Current short-term levels are about 44 micrograms per cubic meter, he said.
The area has seen reduced air pollution in recent years, Thompson said, partly by shutting three industrial plants in West Mifflin and McKeesport.
Major changes at U.S. Steel's Clairton plant have proven instrumental, he said. That plant is the largest source of particulates in the Liberty-Clairton area, which the federal government says faces the highest levels of cancer because of air pollution in the nation.
U.S. Steel did not respond to a request for comment.
The company shut three batteries of coke ovens in 2009 and is implementing a $500 million improvement project, which includes a new battery and quench towers to cool emissions.
“There has been a tremendous amount that has gone on locally,” Thompson said.
In March, the area around the plant for the first time met the federal annual air pollution level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, set in 1996.
Local environmental groups lauded the county and local companies for their work. Yet questions remain as to whether attainment can be reached and sustained with the proposed plan.
“Twenty years ago, I'm not sure we could have envisioned talking about attaining a level of 35 micrograms. So clearly, we are making huge progress,” said Joe Osborne, legal director of Garfield-based Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP.
The county's figures show that particulate levels could be reduced to between 34 and 36 micrograms with the federal rule that remains in limbo. New federal standards expected this month could reduce the limit further to 30 micrograms, Osborne said.
Tom Hoffman, the Western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, said air-quality improvements in the Clairton area are needed and he worries that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is in jeopardy.
Some reductions in cross-state air pollution have occurred as coal-powered plants to the west have either closed or invested in enhanced pollution controls, such as air scrubbers, Thompson said.
“They're having an impact,” he said, “but we need the full impact of the rule to reach attainment.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Greensburg woman accused of assaulting nurse in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital
- East Hills brawl involves 50 people, nets at least 1 arrest
- $1.5M grant will pay for Presque Isle sand
- Donor name to be stripped from Penn Hills library
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- Penn State trustee resigns, regrets Paterno vote
- 12 local wrestlers advance to PIAA Class AAA finals
- Fuel spill discovered on Loyalhanna Creek