PITTSBURGH, Pa.—On February 2, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy approved a consent decree negotiated by NELC attorneys with Swiss steel giant ArcelorMittal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The decree requires ArcelorMittal to make wide-ranging upgrades to bring its problem-riddled coal processing plant in Monessen, Pa., (south of Pittsburgh) into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, and to pay what is believed to be the largest civil penalty in Pennsylvania history for a citizen-initiated Clean Air Act enforcement case.
NELC attorneys filed the Clean Air Act lawsuit on behalf of PennEnvironment and its members in 2015, alleging that hundreds of air pollution violations at the Monessen Coke Plant had showered residents in the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, and Monongahela with soot, acidic gases and noxious odors from the day the decades- old facility was re-started in April 2014.
Every day, the Monessen plant produces nearly 1,000 tons of coke, a key ingredient in the steel making process, by heating coal to extremely high temperatures in 56 large “coke ovens” that run 24 hours per day.
The violations at the Monessen Coke Plant included operating without a key air pollution control device for days and weeks at a time; and hundreds of unlawful emissions of hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas with a foul odor), sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant and contributor to acid rain), and particulate matter (which can get lodged in the lungs and exacerbate respiratory problems) at levels sometimes reaching eight times the legally allowable limits.
After the PennEnvironment suit was initiated, state and federal regulators eventually joined the enforcement effort and participated with NELC in negotiating the consent decree with ArcelorMittal.
Terms of the settlement include:
• A $1.5 million civil penalty, paid to the government, and an additional payment of $300,000 to start a local clean vehicles project administered by The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County;
• Significant stipulated (automatic) penalties for any future emission violations or failures to implement far-reaching environmental upgrades at the plant;
• Enhanced monitoring of emissions;
• A full-scale test of innovative technology to control sulfur dioxide emissions; and
• Mandatory odor investigations and responses to citizen complaints.
The clean vehicles project is meant to further improve the air quality in the communities immediately surrounding the ArcelorMittal facility by financing the replacement of high-pollution municipal vehicles with low-emission, hybrid or electric ones.
“People and children in this area have not been able to enjoy their yards, outdoor sports, or just the beauty of our area because the air outside has been unsafe to breathe,” noted Donna Binley, a Donora resident and PennEnvironment member.
“This consent decree should send a message loud and clear that it doesn’t pay to pollute,” said NELC senior attorney Josh Kratka. “Citizens are ready and able to enforce the law on their own when companies put their health and environment at risk by breaking the law while government regulators stand on the sidelines.”