ATI-Allegheny Ludum Harrison plant to get more lenient air pollution permits
Allegheny Technologies Inc. could get more lenient air pollution permits for its steel mill in Harrison but still has to pay $50,000 in fines for violating its existing permits, according to a consent agreement filed Monday in Allegheny County Court.
The settlement between the Allegheny County Health Department and ATI Flat Rolled Products LLC and Allegheny Ludlum LLC sparked outrage among four activist groups that previously announced plans to sue Allegheny Ludlum in federal court. The planned suits were over emissions from its two electric arc furnaces used in the production of the plant's specialty steel products.
The health department, through testing, determined that ATI was unable to meet emission limits for the furnaces and its hot rolling processing equipment and agreed to let the company apply for updated air pollution permits.
Jim Kelly, deputy director of the health department's Bureau of Environmental Health, said the previous limits were incorrectly determined because they were based on estimates and not actual data.
The health department issued an installation permit for the furnaces in November 2002 and installation permits for the Hot Rolling Processing Facility, to replace existing hot rolling equipment, in February 2010 and September 2013.
Kelly said changes at the facility, such as the addition of its $1.1 billion rolling mill, delayed the permit process because a permit can't be finalized until a piece of equipment is installed, working and can be tested. The rolling mill opened in 2015.
“They were out of compliance because of the estimates that were incorrect — that's both on the fault of the facility because of the information they gave us, and on the fault of our engineers because (of) their ability to estimate the emissions,” Kelly said.
In addition to paying fines, the company will donate land to Harrison to be used for a biking and walking trail along the Allegheny River.
Kelly said the land donation is significant and unique because it will directly benefit Harrison.
Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, called the settlement “ineffective.”
The four groups previously provided notice that they intended to sue Allegheny Ludlum in federal court on or after Monday.
“The ineffective settlement does not require Allegheny Ludlum to comply with its current permit limits,” Filippini said in prepared remarks. “Instead, the settlement only requires the company to pay $50,000 in penalties and to provide a short easement for a bike trail — and invites the company to apply for new, higher limits.”
Patton Dycus, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, which represents Group Against Smog and Pollution and PennEnvironment in the environmental groups' legal action, said the county is letting ATI “off the hook” through a revised permit. The groups previously indicated that the two electric arc furnaces exceed the legal limits for nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, soot and carbon monoxide, which worsen smog and increase the risk of heart attacks, lung disease and asthma.
“The county's actions do nothing to protect the health of those living downwind of this plant,” Dycus said in prepared remarks.
Both the health department and ATI agreed that modifications to the permits would be appropriate, according to the agreement.
Kelly acknowledged that emission limits for both nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides will be higher with the updated permits.
“The bottom line is, the emission limits were incorrectly determined,” he said. “Those emission limits will be higher; however, at the end of the day, those emissions weren't that high to begin with.”
ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield declined to comment on the settlement.
Installation and operating permits resulting from the settlement will be open for public comment and a public hearing, officials said.
Kelly said it is too soon to determine when that hearing might be but said the department is hoping to issue a draft permit by the end of the summer.
“We're already working on them now. We're trying to expedite this as fast as possible,” Kelly said of the air pollution permits.