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U.S. Steel, Allegheny County Health Department Finalize Air Pollution Settlement Agreement and Order

Mark Dixon
The Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Pa.

The Allegheny County Health Department has reached a final settlement agreement and order with U.S. Steel over air pollution violations at the Clairton Coke Works, part of the larger Mon Valley Works system. The settlement was issued in June of 2019 to address ongoing emissions problems at the plant.

The final settlement requires U.S. Steel to pay $2.7 million in fines as well as make $200 million worth of improvements to the facility.

"U.S. Steel remains committed to an investment of approximately $200 million for improvements to its Mon Valley Works coke batteries, including upgrades to emission controls and plant infrastructure," U.S. Steel said in a statement.

Health Department interim director Ron Sugar said this settlement is a step forward for addressing runaway emissions at the Works.

"We do believe that once these repairs are made to the plant, there will be a reduction in emissions in the Mon Valley," Sugar said. "And air quality will improve as a result."

The entities have been engaged in a two-year legal battle due to what the County said was a decrease in compliance over time. Multiple penalties were filed by the health department against U.S. Steel, followed by the manufacturing giant appealing them.

After the June settlement, former Allegheny County Health Director Karen Hacker said the department did not get everything it wanted.

"But, we believe this settlement will result in significant improvements to air quality and the lowering of emissions," Hacker said at the time.

According to the Health Department, two key parts to the order have been completed. The first establishes a Community Benefit Trust for neighboring Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue. More than $3 million has been deposited into that fund by U.S. Steel.

For future emissions violations at the Clairton Coke Works, 90 percent of the fines’ total will go to the Trust for "approximately five years," according to the county. The fund administrator is the Smithfield Trust Company.

Zach Barber, a clean air advocate at PennEnvironment, said this settlement is a step in the right direction, as long as the Trust money goes to remediation.

"We think an important part of how this money gets spent needs to be making sure it's paying to clean up the problems this pollution has caused," Barber said. 

A Community Advisory Panel will also be formed, comprised of elected officials and residents of neighboring communities eligible for the Trust. The panel and U.S. Steel representatives will meet on a quarterly basis to hash out concerns related to the Clairton Coke Works.