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(UPDATED) Watchdog Report: Has U.S. Steel Kept the Promises It Made in Latest Settlement Agreement with Allegheny County Health Department?

Editor’s Note: A U.S. Steel representative on May 13 provided an update to the Allegheny County Board of Health during the public comment portion of its meeting. His comments, which were submitted and read into the record instead of presented live because of COVID-19 restrictions, indicated that all of the upgrades specified in the agreement with ACHD have been met. The representative also indicated that the company was on target to meet upcoming deadlines.

A lot has happened since the Allegheny County Health Department finalized a settlement agreement with U.S. Steel over ongoing emissions issues at its Mon Valley Works this past summer. 

Not only is there a new leader at the helm of ACHD, but the pandemic that has forced people to stay at home and practice social distancing has also taken a financial toll on U.S. Steel: Citing a nearly $400 million first-quarter loss, the company last week announced that it would immediately idle a blast furnace at the Edgar Thomson plant. U.S. Steel officials also confirmed that workers there would be furloughed. The company earlier shelved plans to build a cogeneration facility at its Clairton Coke Works that would have reduced emissions. 

At a time when so much is happening so quickly, the Group Against Smog and Pollution wants to ensure that ACHD is keeping U.S. Steel accountable for the facility improvements outlined in the agreement – and making sure those projects are completed by the deadline.

Why are we bringing this up now? Because the first set of deadlines have already passed. The settlement agreement required U.S. Steel to install a cover and/or air curtains at the south side of the B Battery shed – projects designed to reduce fugitive emissions by May 1. The agreement also required U.S. Steel to upgrade all filter bags and filter bag cages on all PEC baghouses at the facility by May 1.

And more deadlines are upcoming:

  • U.S. Steel must file an initial report no later than June 1 detailing the company’s CITE (Continuous Improvement to the Environment) efforts and achievements in 2019. The company is required to submit such reports annually. 
  • U.S. Steel must have the first of five required environmental audits completed by July 1.
  • No later than July 1, U.S. Steel must submit an application for an installation permit for the replacement PEC baghouses for Batteries 13-15 and 19-20 for improved capture and control of particulate matter. 

“This settlement agreement was too high-profile, and the underlying emissions issues too egregious, for the health department not to provide regular updates to the public,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “U.S. Steel has a less than stellar record when it comes to keeping its promises. It’s incumbent upon ACHD to ensure U.S. Steel is accountable for the promises it’s made – and by communicating these efforts, the health department would also be showing that it’s holding itself accountable to the public.”

In addition to those improvements, the agreement also stipulates that a Community Advisory Panel overseeing how money from an associated Community Benefit Trust will be allocated meet for the first time during the first half of 2020. It is unclear if any such meetings have taken place or will by the June 30 deadline.

“The purpose of the panel was to provide transparency and accountability regarding the more than $2 million to be spent on projects that will benefit the communities most affected by air pollution emanating from the Clairton Coke Works,” Filippini said. “To date, neither ACHD nor U.S. Steel has provided any kind of update on the progress of that panel or any associated projects. We need details.”

For these reasons, GASP is calling on the Allegheny County Health Department to provide updates to the community as these deadlines approach, and as the company provides to officials reports and documentation as set forth in the final agreement.

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