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Lt. Gov. Praises Union Workers, Defends Clairton's Environmental Record

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman listens to union member discusses efforts to repair pollution controls at Clairton Coke Works.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said on Monday that it’s possible to have both clean air and steel production in the Mon Valley.

Fetterman made his comments while flanked by union workers outside the U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works.

Plant operations have come under heightened scrutiny after two fires temporarily knocked Clairton’s pollution control system offline. Fetterman praised union workers’ efforts to restore pollution controls after both incidences, which he said adverted significant damage. 

"These brave union men and women were working through what was nothing short of an enormous mechanical failure," said Fetterman, regarding the December fire, which was the more serious of the two events.

The lieutenant governor also noted he and his family live close U.S. Steel's Edgar Thompson Plant in Braddock.

“I know that U.S. Steel is committed that we all breathe the cleanest air that is compatible with preserving the union way of life for thousands and thousands of families,” said Fetterman.

The less damaging of the two fires happened last month. Pollution controls were down for less than a day.

The first fire occurred on Christmas Eve. Controls were down until March. The Allegheny County Health Department advised at-risk populations, such as small children and the elderly, to limit their time outside. Some residents said they noticed affects of the degraded air quality.

Fetterman pledged to hold U.S. Steel accountable if it falls short on its environmental stewardship responsibilities. He pointed out that county air monitors did not register any pollution exceedances, despite controls being offline.  

The Pittsburgh-based Breathe Collaborative said it’s concerned that US Steel isn’t doing enough to change Clairton’s pattern of equipment malfunctions, which the collaborative said degrades air quality and disrupts communities in the Mon Valley.

Clairton plant manager Michael Rhoades said planned upgrades costing $1 billion at Clairton and other Pittsburgh-area plants will further improve air quality in the region.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.