Clairton coke oven may not be affected by EPA's Clean Power Plan standards
Coke ovens such as those in Clairton may not be affected directly by proposed Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan standards aimed at coal-fired power plants.
“(The standards are) a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants,” an EPA spokeswoman said. “It does not propose requirements for the steel industry.”
“They will create a situation where electric rates will go up,” U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney A. Boone said. “Then those rates will be passed along to the consumer, that is, us, and that is how they will impact our operations.”
“EPA did not conduct a quantitative analysis of the impact of the proposed plan on industries outside the electric generating sector,” agency press officer Enesta Jones emailed in response to Daily News questions.
Her agency issued restrictions on coke oven emissions in the past. Standards were set in 1992, revised in 2000 and led to an overhaul of U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant, North America's largest coke producer.
On Jan. 31, 2013, U.S. Steel commissioned a state-of-the-art C Battery to replace Batteries 7-9 as part of a half-billion-dollar project that included construction of new low-emission quench towers and environmental rehabilitation of Batteries 1-3.
Some months later, EPA began what it called “an unprecedented public outreach” to draw up its Clean Power Plan.
“Since last summer, the agency has collected extensive public input, including 11 public listening sessions and meetings with more than 300 groups from across the country,” Jones wrote.
That included the American Iron and Steel Institute, whose member companies represent more than 75 percent of steel capacity in the United States and Canada, and the United Steelworkers, which represent workers at Clairton and other U.S. Steel facilities.
“It's going to take us some time to work our way through the ruling and until we do so, we are not making further comment,” said steelworkers spokesman Wayne Ranick.
“The leading states in terms of iron and steel production in the U.S. are heavily dependent on coal for electricity production, and therefore, so is our industry,” institute president Thomas J. Gibson said. “A regulation from EPA that will disproportionately impact coal-generated electricity will have a detrimental effect on steelmaking.”
U.S. Steel president and CEO Mario Longhi echoed Gibson's concern earlier this week.
“These guidelines take direct aim at the coal industry, and in turn take aim at manufacturing,” Longhi said in remarks prepared for a keynote speech to the West Virginia Manufacturers Association's leadership summit on Monday in Charleston.
“As an energy-intensive, trade-exposed industry, steel will bear the weight of this onerous regulatory burden as electricity costs are passed on to the users,” Longhi said. “Regulations such as these put the steel industry, and domestic manufacturing, at a competitive disadvantage against other steel producing nations such as China, India and Russia where such environmental rules do not exist or are ignored.”
Jones wrote that EPA's proposal provides the states “with significant flexibility” in determining how to meet goals that keep energy “affordable and reliable” and predicts that energy bills will shrink by 8 percent when its program is fully implemented — in 2030.
On one hand, by 2030 estimated annual costs for the plan will range from $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion. On the other, the EPA predicted, “for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, American families will see up to $7 in health benefits.”
Across the nation, the EPA spokeswoman said, the proposed reductions “will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion per year in 2030,” including 2,700 to 6,600 fewer premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 fewer asthma attacks in children.
By then, EPA expects its plan would “help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by approximately 30 percent from 2005 levels,” while reducing soot and smog pollutants by 25 percent.
Reduction of pollutants such as particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in size long has been the focus of federal and state efforts in the city of Clairton and South Allegheny boroughs of Liberty, Glassport, Port Vue and Lincoln.
It remains known as the Liberty-Clairton nonattainment area as it has not met federal standards for particulate pollution, even with U.S. Steel's efforts in Clairton.
The EPA plan coincided with steel industry efforts to turn back alleged unfair trade practices by other countries that produce pipe for the oil and gas industry, particularly South Korea. Longhi saw common cause with coal there, too.
“The threat does not end with onerous regulations,” Longhi said in Charleston. “Like other industries in the manufacturing supply chain, coal is also threatened by the unfair trade practices.”
Jones said the EPA continues to seek “broad outreach” with public hearings in Atlanta, Washington, Denver and on July 31 in Pittsburgh. Those wishing to sign up for that hearing can do so at www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan.
“We can expect the coal industry to flood the hearing,” a spokesman for Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center said in an email, “so we will need to show the EPA and the world Pennsylvanians support a strong carbon pollution rule.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.