[Pittsburgh, PA] – Today the statewide citizen-based environmental group PennEnvironment announced that it has garnered what is believed to be the largest citizen suit penalty of its kind in Pennsylvania history. The federal Clean Air Act lawsuit was filed in 2015 against the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, and alleged hundreds of air pollution violations at the company’s Monessen, PA coke plant (a facility that processes coal).
The settlement was officially signed by PennEnvironment, ArcelorMittal Monessen LLC, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice, and was submitted today to the federal district court in Pittsburgh for approval after a 30-day public comment period.
“Today’s announcement should send a message loud-and-clear to polluters,” stated PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “Citizens and PennEnvironment will not stand idly by if you’re going to illegally pollute, and put our health and environment at risk.”
PennEnvironment initiated its lawsuit to prevent illegal air pollution from ArcelorMittal’s Monessen Coke Plant, which was raining down on residents in Westmoreland and Washington counties, specifically in the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and Carroll Township. Ever since the company’s idled, decades-old facility re-started in April 2014, individuals and their homes have been showered with soot and acidic gases that also have noxious odors.
“The pollution control measures required by this settlement agreement are essential for protecting public health, but should have been employed years ago. Hopefully, today’s outcome demonstrates that it doesn’t pay to pollute,” stated Heather Govern, the National Environmental Law Center attorney who filed the case on behalf of PennEnvironment.
The settlement terms include:
- A $1.5 million civil penalty, which will be allocated to US EPA and PA-DEP, and an additional payment of $300,000 to start a local clean vehicles project administered by The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County;
- Significant stipulated penalties for any emission violations and for any failures to implement a series of far-reaching environmental upgrades at the plant;
- Enhanced monitoring of emissions;
- Full-scale trial of innovative technology to control sulfur dioxide emissions when the facility’s pollution control system is shut down for annual maintenance work;
- Enhanced controls of dust emissions, odor investigations, and responses to citizen complaints;
- Other environmental, operational, and plant upgrades & investigations.
“I would hope that people and children in this area would be able to enjoy their yards, outdoor sports, and just the beauty of our area,” noted Donna Binley, a Donora resident and PennEnvironment member. “But a lot of people haven’t been able to enjoy these things because the air outside has been unsafe to breathe.”
The lawsuit alleged a wide variety of problems at ArcelorMittal’s Monessen Coke Plant, located 25 miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River. These problems included:
- Operating the plant for days and weeks at a time while a key air pollution control device was out of service;
- More than 226 violations of the facility’s pollution limits for hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas with a foul odor), sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant and contributor to acid rain), and particulate matter (which can lodge in the lungs and exacerbate respiratory problems);
- Failure to install a required monitoring device that tracks the amount of hydrogen sulfide burned in the facility’s boilers and flare;
- At times, violations have been so egregious that ArcelorMittal’s emission levels have been up to eight times higher than the legally allowable limits.
“PennEnvironment’s announcement today is a critical step in helping to protect residents of the Mon Valley from dangerous air pollution,” stated Masur. “Having clean air is a right, not a privilege, and we’re glad to do our part to help protect local residents in and around Monessen from illegal pollution.”
The vehicle emission reduction fund is meant to create additional benefits for the communities immediately surrounding the ArcelorMittal facility.
The Community Foundation was chosen because of its knowledge of community issues and connections to the neighborhoods affected by the coke plant.
“The goal is to work closely with local school districts, nonprofits and municipal governments to find the best ways to reduce municipal vehicle and school bus emissions to improve air quality in the region,” said Phil Koch, executive director of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. “We will find and fund vehicle emissions projects that offer substantial public health and environmental benefits to the people who live and work in the area most affected by pollution from the ArcelorMittal plant.”
The Monessen Coke Plant’s 56 coke battery ovens heat coal at high temperatures to produce nearly 1,000 tons per day of coke, a form of carbon that is used to turn molten iron into steel. Coke from the Monessen plant is shipped to ArcelorMittal’s various North American steel mills. ArcelorMittal Monessen’s parent company is headquartered in Luxembourg and has annual revenues of over $80 billion.
PennEnvironment adds this victory to its long track record of defending local communities and residents against illegal polluters. The organization has already delivered the two largest citizen suit penalties against illegal polluters under the federal Clean Water Act in Pennsylvania history; today’s settlement imposes the largest Clean Air Act penalty in a Pennsylvania citizen suit.
“When I was working with National Environmental Law Center and PennEnvironment, I felt like they truly understood what I was going through and experiencing. And that I wasn’t alone,” said local resident Viktoryia Maroz. “That’s when I started feeling okay and that someone cares.”
“For our staff at PennEnvironment, this is what our work is all about,” said Masur. “Every day our hard-working staff and our generous citizen members come together to make sure that we can help Pennsylvanians in need to stand up against powerful polluters.”
PennEnvironment is represented by the National Environmental Law Center (NELC), a non-profit environmental litigation group; attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts; and Pittsburgh attorney Thomas Farrell of Farrell & Reisinger, LLC.
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PennEnvironment is a citizen-based, statewide environmental advocacy organization working to ensure clean air, clean water, and protecting Pennsylvania’s great natural heritage. For more information about this and other PennEnvironment projects, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.