Rep. Murphy tours, praises Monessen's coke plant
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy was standing outside the ArcelorMittal Plant in Monessen Tuesday, speaking after a tour of the recently opened facility, when a train carrying coke passed in the background behind him.
“There you go – there's jobs,” Murphy said.
“And money going down the track,” added Mark Lesonick, construction manager and operations manager for the Monessen plant.
The Upper St. Clair Republican, chairman of the House Steel Caucus, touted the reopening of the coke plant.
Members of the media were not invited to participate in the tour.
The Monessen coke plant was originally built by Pittsburgh Steel during World War II. Pittsburgh Steel and Wheeling Steel Corp. merged to form Wheeling-Pittsburgh in 1968.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel shutdown the Monessen operation in 1986.
Sharon Steel purchased the idled coke plant in 1988 and operated it until 1995, when it sold the plant to Koppers for $5 million. Koppers spent an estimated $13 million in repairs and updates to the plant.
ArcelorMittal purchased the plant in 2009.
In September 2012, ArcelorMittal announced plans to invest $50 million to upgrade the plant and resume production. The plant had been idle since 2008.
Murphy lauded ArcelorMittal for its $50 million investment in the coke plant, and used the opportunity to blast environmental regulations and unfair trade practices by China and a need for completion of the Lower Mon project.
“It's exciting to see that kind of investment and the couple of hundred jobs it created,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the members of the steel caucus are concerned about the dumping of foreign steel by countries like Korea and China, and currency manipulation. He called on the Obama Administration to “call China on the carpet” about falsely deflating prices.
“It's the same thing that a pusher does,” Murphy said. “He supplies heroin to the addict cheap until he gets hooked and then jacks up the price.”
Murphy said protecting domestic steel production and the operations that support it are vital to the U.S. economy and defense. The steel industry supports America's coal fields as well as rail and barge jobs.
“The coke from this plant goes to Cleveland to make steel that goes into the cars,” Murphy said. “People are buying cars that are made because of Pennsylvania coal.”
Keith Nagel, director of environmental affairs and real estate for ArcelorMittal, said the plant is “still ramping up.”
Lesonick said roughly 180 are back to work with employment expected to reach a peak of 200 by later this year.
“These are good, family-sustaining jobs, and the Valley needs them,” Murphy said.
Currently 57 ovens a day, each producing 10 to 11 tons of coke, are in operation. The company plans to peak at 94 to 97 coke batteries operating. As they fire up at higher temperatures, production will become even more efficient, Lesonick said.
In addition, Lesonick said 175 outside craftsmen have been employed in the plant upgrades.
Coal burned in the plant to produce coke arrives by barge and truck.
Murphy said he has been appealing to the House Appropriations Committee for increased funding for the Lower Mon project.
Begun in 1992, the Lower Mon Project was originally scheduled for completion by 2004. It involves improvements to the locks and dams in Braddock, Elizabeth and North Charleroi.
The project is now slated for completion in 2030, due to underfunded annual appropriations. The delay is due to funding overruns on the Olmsted Locks and Dam project in Kentucky, Murphy said.
Murphy said he is concerned that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is not taking into account the impact of jobs on any of its environmental regulations.
On the 50th anniversary of then-President Johnson's War on Poverty, Murphy said the U.S. is losing the war.
He said steel, coal and electric utility industries – which he said have been hurt by environmental regulations – fall in the Appalachian region.
Murphy's visit was lauded by ArcelorMittal.
“We're thrilled the congressman is interested in helping steel move along,” Nagel said. “We're thrilled to show the congressman the jobs we're bringing here.”
Lesonick said when he started with Bethlehem Steel 30 years ago, the steel giant employed 104,000, including 300 engineers. Today, Bethlehem Steel no longer exits, he said.
“Any assistance and support we can get, we need,” Lesonick said.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or email@example.com.