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<UPDATED>U.S. Steel Appeals $4.6 Million Fine for 831 Uncontrolled Push Violations at Clairton Coke Works, GASP Lauds ACHD for Taking Action

Editor’s Note: GASP made a public records request for documents related to either an appeal or receipts showing payment. In response to that request, we received documentation from the Allegheny County Health Department this week showing U.S. Steel on April 5 paid the fine related to the 831 uncontrolled pushing violations at the Clairton Coke Works. The money will be held in escrow as an appeal makes its way through the system, the Pittsburgh Business Times has reported. On June 13 ACHD posted the appeal information to its legal docket. You can read the appeal here. We’ll keep you posted.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) on Thursday announced in a press release that it has imposed more than $4.5 million in penalties against U.S. Steel for 831 uncontrolled push violations at its Clairton Coke Works facility. The violations occurred between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 15, 2022.

Here’s what the release said:

“Pushing is the operation of unloading, or “pushing,” finished coke from the oven into a traveling hot car to be transported and cooled. To contain emissions, a travel hood is placed over the vehicle outside of the coke oven door while the coke is pushed into the car.

The hood forces emissions to pass through filters and then vents the emissions through a pushing emission control system (PEC). An uncontrolled push occurs when emissions that would normally go through the PEC do not, resulting in emissions that are not captured or filtered being released into the air.

The US Steel Clairton Coke Plant is required to submit monthly process information reports to the Health Department, a requirement resulting from a previous enforcement order on July 23, 1990. Other pollution sources in Allegheny County must submit process reports on a semi-annual or quarterly basis.

Air Quality staff reviewed the process information reports dating back to the start of 2020, as well as breakdown reports for the same time period, in determining the 831 violations. The process information reports covered by the order are available online on the Air Quality Program’s Compliance Status Report page.

Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen has made air quality and enforcement a priority, in part by reorganizing the Bureau of Environmental Health and creating new positions focused on air quality enforcement. The Health Department has nearly doubled the enforcement section alone, from 13 staff members to 25, which allows the Air Quality team to more thoroughly analyze data and identify violations.

“We are committed to protecting residents’ health and holding sources of pollution accountable,” Dr. Bogen said. “The Health Department expects 100% compliance, and this latest enforcement action further demonstrates our commitment to protecting air quality for all. I thank my staff for their continued hard work and vigilance.”In recent months, the Health Department has taken several steps to protect air quality.  

On October 5, 2021, the Health Department issued an enforcement order against Neville Chemical Company for violating emissions limits in their Title V permit.As part of its efforts to launch the Mon Valley Episode Rule, designed to improve air quality and signed into law by County Executive Fitzgerald in September 2021, the Health Department announced on February 3, 2022 that it had finalized review of all submitted mitigation plans, approving 10 and rejecting six (6).

The six plans previously rejected have been re-submitted and are currently under review.On March 3, 2022, the Health Department announced a penalty of $859,300 against U.S. Steel for Article XXI Air Pollution Control violations and permit violations at the Clairton Coke Plant in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.

Four days later, the Health Department announced a penalty of $1.8 million against U.S. Steel for 153 Hydrogen Sulfide exceedances recorded at the Liberty Monitor from January 1, 2020, through March 1, 2022.

For the most recent enforcement order, the Health Department reviewed monthly data for uncontrolled pushes and found that they occurred at the PECs for eight (8) of the plant’s 10 coke batteries. The penalty is based on several factors including the nature, severity, and frequency of the violations; the willfulness of such violations; and the impact of such violations on the public and the environment. The calculation for the penalty is based on the number of violations, compliance history of the Clairton Coke Plant, and the Title V Major Source status of the plant.

U.S. Steel has 30 days to appeal or pay the penalty. A copy of this and all air quality enforcement actions can be found here.”

GASP is reviewing the enforcement document and lauds ACHD for taking this latest, robust enforcement action. 

“Environmental laws and regulations protect public health.  I think ACHD’s recent enforcement efforts validate what community members have experienced for far too long: that U.S. Steel is not even close to being the good neighbor it pretends to be in its public statements,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “In comments we submitted to ACHD last week regarding U.S. Steel’s application to renew its air quality operating permit for the Clairton Coke facility, we pointed out the permit is required by federal and local regulation to include a binding schedule of actions and benchmarks that will get this entire facility fully compliant with air quality regulations. Our comments also highlighted decades of failures on US Steel’s part to comply with air quality regulations.”

He continued:

“This most recent fine – and the several other before it this month – only reinforces our belief it’s time for U.S. Steel to admit its failures as a ‘good neighbor,’ clean up its act and invest the money necessary to ensure Clairton Coke can comply with the laws designed to protect public health.”

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Group Against Smog and Pollution