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PETITION | EPA: It’s Been Nearly 4 Years, Public Deserves Transparency, Action Regarding Emissions Issues at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant

A reddish-brown plume of smoke that streamed out of U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant in June 2020 prompted air quality complaints and outcry from residents and environmental groups alike. The incident did not, however, spur a notice of violation or other enforcement action from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD).

Or at least any that has been made public. 

Let us explain.

While ACHD did issue an NOV to U.S. Steel regarding exceedances of emissions limits at the plant on two other dates, no further information has been released from the department on when, exactly, the facility would be forced to come into compliance with local and federal air quality laws.

Many of you joined us last year in demanding a substantive update from ACHD about a Notice of Violation and Noncompliance issued jointly way back in November of 2017 by ACHD and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In that notice, both regulatory agencies noted that multiple violations of both county and federal rules were noted at the Braddock facility from 2016 through July 2017. In fact, a November 2017 ACHD press release regarding the NOV stated in part:

 

“The nature of the violations includes excessive visible emissions, failure to maintain equipment and failure to certify compliance with the plant’s Title V operating permit. To enhance the Health Department’s enforcement efforts, ACHD has actively engaged the EPA over the course of the last nine months. The EPA brings an expanded level of federal expertise, as well as additional enforcement capacity that will support stronger action by utilizing the Department of Justice and EPA’s capacity to enact more stringent penalties.”

 

ACHD officials at the time said the cooperative effort would maximize resources to ensure the plant got back into compliance. But they’ve stayed mum since, telling reporters that it could not comment on pending legal matters and indicating that the EPA has the jurisdiction when it comes to dissemination of information related to the case.

We hope you will join us now in taking our fight for information and transparency to the EPA. 

“The bottom line is that the 2017 notice of violation was expected to begin the process of determining the necessary penalties and eventual equipment improvements that would return the plant to compliance with federal and county air quality pollution requirements,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini explained. “Yet, here we are nearly four years later and we know nothing more than we did way back when.”

To be clear: The only available information on the progress regarding Edgar Thomson’s compliance issues – and what mitigation efforts will be undertaken by the steel-making giant to ensure that incidents like the one with the billowing reddish-brown plume don’t happen again – is an ACHD compliance status report current as of Jan. 1, 2020, indicating merely that the Edgar is “Non-Compliant.” 

And we don’t think that’s nearly enough disclosure.

“We understand that it’s an ongoing case. But the EPA needs to realize that residents have been living with air pollution emanating from U.S. Steel for years – decades – with little to no relief,” Filippini said. “While regulators are working behind closed doors to resolve this years-old notice of violation, the public bearing the brunt of the associated pollution have been left completely in the dark. Residents have been patient long enough. They deserve to know when – and how – the Mon Valley’s most prolific air polluter will be required to clean up its act.”

For these reasons, GASP is formally calling on EPA to provide to the public a substantive update on what improvements have and will be required of U.S. Steel to bring its Edgar Thomson plant back into compliance with air quality regulations and what penalty – if any – the company will be assessed.

We urge you to sign our petition here:

Petition | Tell EPA: Public Deserves Transparency Regarding Emissions Issues at U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Plant & Timeline, Plan for Compliance

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and the undersigned are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide a substantive public update regarding ongoing and egregious emissions episodes at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works, as well as detailed information about when - and how - the facility will be forced to comply with local and federal air quality regulations.

It’s been nearly four years since ACHD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a joint Notice of Violation (NOV) against U.S. Steel for repeated emissions issues at the plant. It was supposed to be the first step in getting the plant back into compliance with both county and federal air quality regulations.

Acknowledging that ongoing emissions issues there present a public health risk, ACHD and EPA indicated back in 2017 that in the wake of the NOV would be a plan detailing what financial penalties would be assessed against U.S. Steel, as well as what equipment and operational upgrades would be required to bring Edgar Thomson back into compliance.

The public has waited long enough for an update on this public health issue, which is of paramount importance to the communities surrounding the plant, the communities downwind of it - and everyone in between.

When it comes to showing the most-affected communities that it prioritizes air quality as a public health issue, EPA officials need to understand that the time for lip service is over. Residents need information and action now.

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  1. Daniela says:

    This action is critical as well as simple things like regulations around the use of fire pits and fireplaces that are destroying our health. No one wants to touch this but we cannot continue to bury our head in the sand.

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