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Allegheny County Issues Nearly $800K In Fines For Clairton Coke Works Violations

Gene J. Puskar

Allegheny County Health Department officials have again issued fines against U.S. Steel for air pollution and permit violations that occurred at U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works last year.

The department levied nearly $800,000 in penalties, to be paid to the Community Benefit Trust and to the Allegheny Clean Air Fund. According to a letter released by the county Friday, the fines were issued Jan. 14 and are due 30 days after.

The letter sent to U.S. Steel states that the violations took place from April 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2019.

Credit Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Protesters at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh demand stricter air quality regulations on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.

The amount was stipulated by a June 2019 settlement.

In an emailed response spokesperson Amanda Malkowski said U.S. Steel is reviewing the request for payment and verifying that the demand is consistent with the settlement agreement.

“U. S. Steel is continuing to make progress on the over $200 million dollar environmental improvement projects related to the Settlement Agreement at Clairton and has spent in excess of $50 million dollars per year over the past five years to enhance environmental performance at our Mon Valley Works facilities,” Malkowski said in the statement. “Our planned investment of over $1.2 billion dollars in a state of the art endless caster and cogeneration facility will provide additional environmental improvements.

While air quality activists say continuing to fine U.S. Steel is a necessary step toward cleaner air for Mon Valley residents, they also say the fines alone aren’t enough. Zachary Barber with Penn Environment says conditions at the plant continue to worsen.

“It just goes to show that putting our health at risk is part of doing business for U.S. Steel and they kind of just factor this into their loss sheets," he said. "That’s totally unacceptable because we have a right to breathe clean air but this is just business as usual for them.”

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, said the fines levied against U.S. Steel are for the same type of violation that the company has committed for several years.

“The repeated nature of these violations is indicative of chronic operational failures and systemic subpar facility maintenance,” Fiippini said in an emailed statement. "In addition to fining US Steel, ACHD officials must get to work on coke-oven emission regulations and a procedure to protect public health when weather conditions combine with industrial air pollution to threaten local air quality, as they committed to do."

Air quality activists protested at the City County Building in downtown Pittsburgh last Friday before the Board of Health meeting, demanding increased efforts to improve air quality. Protesters noted the high rates of children with asthma living near the plant and asked for the health department to provide follow-up care for residents affected by a string of smoggy days in the Mon Valley related to pollution.

Earlier this month ACHD interim director Ronald Sugar said the County will propose new regulations by the end of 2020 to require industrial polluters to reduce emissions during weather-related pollution days. 

Health Department officials were not available for comment.

*This story was updated 1/17/20 at 4:16 p.m.