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Company agrees to $200M in emissions upgrades at Clairton coke works
(Brett Ciccotelli photo via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)
Five local communities will share benefits from a $3 million trust fund as part of a settlement reached between U.S. Steel and Allegheny County Health Department over alleged pollution violations at Clairton Plant.
The agreement, announced Monday, also commits the company to investing $200 million in upgraded emissions controls, and creates a community advisory panel that will meet quarterly with U.S. Steel to discuss concerns. It does not require U.S. Steel to admit any guilt for recent air-quality problems.
Under the terms of the agreement, U.S. Steel has agreed to create a community benefit trust for Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue that will be independently administered by Pittsburgh-based Smithfield Trust Co.
Proceeds from the fund must be spent on “environmental and/or public health” benefits, but are not restricted to air quality related projects.
The money may be used for “the creation or renovation of parks, green spaces or playground spaces” or “programs that are aimed at directly improving the well-being of residents.”
Neither the county nor the company will be able to direct how the proceeds are spent, said Ryan Scarpino, health department spokesman.
Each of the communities will be allowed to appoint one representative to a “trust distribution board” that will meet at least twice a year to consider proposed projects.
The five communities were determined to be the ones most impacted by pollution from Clairton Plant, which produces coke and chemical byproducts from coal, Scarpino said.
“U. S. Steel is pleased to have reached this agreement with the health department as it reflects the company’s commitment to making meaningful improvements in our neighboring communities and shared environment,” said Scott Buckiso, U.S. Steel senior vice-president and chief manufacturing officer. “We thank the public for participating in the comment period.”
The initial funding for the trust includes $2.45 million that was assessed by the health department against U.S. Steel for exceeding air quality standards in 2018 and early 2019, as well as $669,262.50 in additional penalities assessed during the spring and summer of 2019.
In addition, 90 percent of any penalties paid for new air-quality violations at the Clairton Plant will be deposited into the trust fund over a period five years, the company and the health department said.
The remaining 10 percent is being paid to the county’s Clean Air Fund.
The funds will be divided based on the population and area of each community, with 26.7 percent allocated to Clairton, 21.9 percent to Lincoln, 19.9 percent to Glassport, 16.3 percent to Port Vue and 15.1 percent to Liberty Borough.
Under the terms of its creation, the trust fund will end in 21 years or whenever the money is exhausted, whichever comes first.
Each of the municipalities also will select residents and elected officials to serve as representatives to a community advisory panel which will advise the company about its concerns and make suggestions for improvements.
The meetings do not require U.S. Steel to act on those suggestions, and are not open to the public.
Under the terms of the agreement, U.S. Steel also is committed to approximately $200 million in additional improvements to the coke ovens at Clairton Plant, said Amanda Malkowski, a company spokeswoman.
Those improvements are in addition to more than $1.5 billion in upgrades that U.S. Steel has announced at its Mon Valley facilities, including a new, highly automated casting facility at Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, and a co-generation facility at Clairton Plant that will turn some of the coke gas into electricity.
Above: A typical “baghouse.” (Cornhorn photo via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.)
The pollution control upgrades include installation of either a cover or “air curtain” or both on the Clairton Plant’s B Battery before May 1, 2020, as well as improved filtering equipment on all so-called “baghouses” at the plant.
Baghouses are massive filtering machines used to remove small dirt, soot and dust particles from the emissions created by power plants, asphalt plants and steel mills. The technology has been widely used since the 1970s.
The agreement also requires U.S. Steel to complete five annual environmental air compliance audits, with the first due July 1, 2020.
More than 800 people signed a form letter endorsing the terms of the settlement, including representatives of local construction unions, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the United Steelworkers union.
Other community leaders who endorsed the settlement, according to the health department, include Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi; Maury Burgwin, director of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce; and Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders’ Guild of Western Pennsylvania.
All of the public comments, as well as the consent agreement, may be obtained at the health department’s website.
Some of the comments filed in response to the settlement were critical. Environmental activists from the Clean Air Council questioned with the upgraded filters in the so-called “baghouses” will lead to a “meaningful decrease in air emissions.”
The health department responded that baghouses are a “proven mechanism for reducing particulate matter emissions” and that U.S. Steel will provide additional information when it applies for permits to install the equipment.
The Breathe Collaborative and PennFuture suggested that U.S. Steel should be required to replace the coke ovens at Clairton, rather than repair and upgrade them. The health department said it is not authorized to force a company to replace technology.
Some respondents urged the health department to force the plant to shut down entirely, but the department said a shut down would only be considered as a last resort.
The Breathe Collaborative also questioned why meetings of the community advisory panel would be conducted privately. The health department said it would be up to the panel to decide whether the meetings should be open to the public.
Others said that U.S. Steel should be required to admit its responsibility for past air quality violations, but the health department said “requiring an admission of guilt” would not “advance (the county’s) goals of compliance.”
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published February 11, 2020.