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Allegheny County air quality plan may require revision

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 4:11 a.m.

The Allegheny County Health Department is continuing work on a plan to attain federal and state standards for pollution from particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size in Clairton, Liberty, Glassport, Port Vue and Lincoln.

If testimony at a Feb. 19 hearing and papers submitted last week are any indication, the State Implementation Plan for PM2.5 will need reworking before a final vote from the county board of health on May 1.

Various groups detailed “assumptions, inaccuracies and omissions that require attention” in a joint statement about a preliminary plan for the Liberty-Clairton area.

“These plans have real life consequences and are essential to protecting public health,” said David Presley, staff attorney for Clean Air Council. “Unfortunately, this demonstration's computer model makes the air look a lot better than it actually is.”

Presley's council was joined by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future or PennFuture, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Center for Coalfield Justice, Sierra Club, REACH Mon Valley, Sustainable Pittsburgh and Clean Water Action.

“One of the most disturbing things in the comments is that the Liberty-Clairton region is in danger of being downgraded to ‘serious' from ‘moderate' pollution wise,” said Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action.

The groups said the plan relies on computer modeling with errors that predict lower levels of pollution than what will likely occur in practice.

It also said the plan fails to rely on correct portions of the federal Clean Air Act and incorporates rules that have been struck down in court.

“Liberty-Clairton residents deserve to have a strong plan in place to protect them from dangerous air pollution, one that doesn't rely on federal rules that have been struck down in court,” PennFuture Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator Tiffany Hickman said.

The area's largest employer also has problems with the plan. U.S. Steel disputed the use of meteorological data collected near Pittsburgh International Airport, more than 30 miles from Clairton — or three times as far away as the nearest National Weather Service station at West Mifflin's Allegheny County Airport.

Also, “the SIP relies too heavily, if not solely, on the U.S. Steel projects and commitments, and does not adequately address other sources of PM2.5,” wrote U.S. Steel senior environmental engineer Coleen M. Davis.

On Jan. 31, the steelmaker commissioned a new C Battery at its coke plant in Clairton. It is a state of the art unit replacing Batteries 7-9 as part of a half-billion-dollar project that includes construction of new low-emission quench towers and environmental rehabilitation of Batteries 1-3.

“If the attainment plan relies on corrective actions from the U.S. Steel Corp. Clairton Plant consent order as control measures, these measures should be clearly identified in the plan,” according to an assessment from Philadelphia-based Region III of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Emissions reductions included in the attainment plan from the shutdown (of General Motors-Pittsburgh in West Mifflin, Ryan Metal Co. and Precoat Metals) must be permanent, enforceable and quantifiable,” the EPA continued in an analysis submitted by Region III Air Protection Division director Diana Esher.

Health department spokesman Guillermo Cole said his agency will review and summarize the comments and department responses to them, then decide whether to make any changes in the SIP.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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