U.S. Steel to pay $2.7 million in fines over Clairton violations
U.S. Steel will pay $2.7 million in fines from the Allegheny County Health Department related to 2018 air pollution violations at the Clairton Coke Works facility, according to a settlement agreement announced by both parties Friday.
The draft settlement agreement addresses 2018 and early 2019 enforcement orders, as well as subsequent appeals.
It does not address two fires at the Clairton Coke Works facility — one on Dec. 24 and another June 17 — that caused shutdowns of pollution controls and touched off months of heightened concerns over emissions from the site.
Penalties associated with those fires and related emissions violations will be addressed through a federal lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania environmental groups, Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment, along with the county health department.
“This settlement ensures that not only are the requirements of the 2018 order satisfied, but there will be major improvements to the battery operation,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, health department director. “While we did not get everything we wanted, this settlement represents significant progress and includes vitally important components related to transparency and community benefit. We take our responsibilities to improve air quality very seriously, and this draft agreement is another step in the ongoing efforts to ensure clean air for all.”
Of that total, 90% of those funds, or $2,459,253, will be deposited into a new “community benefit trust” intended to benefit communities impacted by air pollution, according to the settlement.
Those communities include the municipalities of Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue, but additional communities as agreed upon by both the health department and U.S. Steel could be added in the future, the settlement said.
U.S. Steel will administer that fund, according to a statement from U.S. Steel.
The remaining 10%, or $273,250, will be deposited in the existing Clean Air Fund.
“U. S. Steel believes this agreement fairly addresses the reasons for our appeal of the enforcement orders related to battery compliance at our Clairton Plant while also demonstrating our commitment to protecting our shared environment and neighboring communities,” Sara Greenstein, senior vice president of consumer solutions at U. S. Steel said in a statement. “We remain committed to working cooperatively with the Allegheny County Health Department to employ additional and effective environmental performance enhancements for the benefit of all stakeholders in the Mon Valley and Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
Richard Lattanzi, mayor of Clairton, said the new fund will be “something to work with” but shared concerns that it won’t go far enough when spread across several high-need communities, including his own.
“We’re still going to pursue trying to do something with the county, on a bigger scale,” Lattanzi said, such as building a recreation and wellness center or a medical clinic.
Earlier this month, he and other Clairton officials called on Allegheny County Council members to address ongoing health concerns in Clairton that they believe are connected to pollution at the Clairton Coke Works.
The draft agreement will be available for a 30-day public comment period beginning July 1.
The settlement also requires U.S. Steel to upgrade batteries — which house the facility’s coke ovens, where coal is baked at high temperatures to produce coke — in order to reduce emissions.
Those improvements are expected to cost U.S. Steel about $200 million, according to a statement from U.S. Steel.
Also included in the settlement are requirements for an annual, third-party audit of coke ovens and air pollution control performance and an expansion of reporting procedures.
In addition, U.S. Steel will expand the decades-old CITE — Continuous Improvement to Environment — program, in order to provide regular reports on environmental improvements and to further train employees.
Moving forward, the health department has agreed to define procedures for developing new coke oven emission standards, clarify testing requirements and use the department’s civil penalty policy to stipulate future penalties.
“I commend the Health Department for its actions, aggressiveness and hard work that led to this agreement and today’s announcement,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement. “I have always asked that the department do everything in its power to ensure that industry is meeting its obligations and responsibilities, and that we are protecting our citizens, and this agreement is a significant step towards meeting those goals.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .