U.S. Steel facing a 2nd federal lawsuit tied to December fire at Clairton Plant | TribLIVE.com
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Jamie Martines

U.S. Steel is facing a second federal lawsuit in connection with a December 2018 fire that damaged pollution controls at the company’s Clairton Plant.

The Philadelphia-based environmental group Clean Air Council alleges that U.S. Steel violated the federal Superfund law, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), by failing to report the release of hundreds of thousands of pounds of hydrogen sulfide, benzene and other hazardous pollutants into the air following the December fire, according to a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The law requires that polluters report such releases to the National Response Center.

“The Superfund law is not just about the cleanup of contaminated property,” Christopher Ahlers, staff attorney with the Clean Air Council, said in a statement. “The notification requirement applies to releases to the environment, which includes air as well as land and water.”

Attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project, based in Washington, D.C., are representing Clean Air Council.

“It’s critically important that industries promptly report releases of air pollution — as required by law — so that people living downwind can protect their families, and so that local health authorities can take appropriate actions to protect public health,” Lisa Widawsky Hallowell, senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement.

The groups announced their intention to sue U.S. Steel in May as the company was holding an event to celebrate a $1 billion investment in its Mon Valley Works facilities, which include the Edgar Thomson Plant, Clairton Plant and Irvin Works.

U.S. Steel has said that these investments will increase production while also reducing pollution. The updated facilities are projected to be online by 2022.

“As a matter of policy, U.S. Steel does not comment on pending litigation,” a statement from U.S. Steel provided by a company spokesperson said. “Environmental stewardship and safety remain core values at U.S. Steel, where we spend approximately $100 million annually on environmental compliance across the Mon Valley Works. We continue to invest in our operations and processes, including the recently announced over $1 billion investment in sustainable steel technology and co-generation facility, which will improve environmental performance and energy conservation through the Mon Valley Works.”

A day after U.S. Steel’s announcement, the Allegheny County Health Department announced it would be joining a separate federal lawsuit initiated by PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council in February.

That lawsuit, which is also tied to the December fire, alleges that U.S. Steel violated Clean Air Act permit requirements related to coke oven gas pollution following the fire.

The health department and environmental groups are seeking a court order that would require U.S. Steel to comply with air permits, an order that would require U.S. Steel to remediate harm caused to local communities as well as hefty civil penalties to punish U.S. Steel for past violations and deter future violations.

In July, the health department received public comment on a draft settlement with U.S. Steel that addressed 2018 and early 2019 air pollution violations at the Clairton Plant. That settlement, which requires U.S. Steel to pay $2.7 million in fines, does not include enforcement actions related to the December fire.

The health department is still reviewing those comments.

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