Allegheny County joins NELC suit against U.S. Steel; another fire reignites safety concerns
PITTSBURGH—On June 18, the Allegh- eny County Health Department joined the citizen suit that National Environmen- tal Law Center (NELC) attorneys filed on behalf of PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council against U.S. Steel in April. Around the same time, a fire knocked out the air pollution controls of U.S. Steel’s Clairton, Pennsylvania, facility for the second time in six months.
NELC attorneys filed suit after the first fire, in December 2018, destroyed portions of Clairton Coke Works’ pollution control system. The company took the pollution controls offline as they were rebuilt, and, from late December through early April, continued to produce coke (a hard, porous material used in the steel-making process) despite having no mechanism to treat the pollutants it generated in the process.
After the second fire occured on June 17, the Allegheny County Health Department issued an emergency order for U.S. Steel to submit a plan to meet emission stan- dards within 20 days, or cease coking operations. The department also made clear that it shares the citizen plaintiffs’ concerns about the extraordinary level of pollutants U.S. Steel emitted from its Clairton-area facilities during the first quarter of 2019, and chose to join our citizen action suit rather than duplicating the groups’ efforts in a suit of its own.
“Yet another fire at this aging facility further underscores the dangers of allowing U.S. Steel to continue to operate what amounts to a doomsday machine that cannot be turned off when pollution controls are knocked offline,” said Ashleigh Deemer, PennEnvironment’s western Pennsylvania director, to the Wall Street Journal.
The June fire was reportedly less extensive than the December fire, but both occurred in the same control room. The repeated events dashed any hope that fires could be prevented under existing conditions at the plant (for information on U.S. Steel’s troubling safety policies, see page 4).
“Joint action by citizen environmental groups and local government should send a clear statement to U.S. Steel: This community will not tolerate illegal air pollution,” said NELC Attorney Maggie Nivison.
“The second fire brings into sharp focus the continuing danger facing this community,” said NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka.
Allegheny County residents endure highly polluted air. U.S. Steel emitted extraordinary levels of pollutants for the months that its pollution controls were offline, and residents’ already impaired air quality suffered a significant setback.