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Environment & Energy

US Steel is trying to block Allegheny County's new coke oven rules

Reid Frazier
Allegheny Front

US Steel is challenging an Allegheny County proposal to reduce pollution from the company’s Clairton Coke Works.

The company said the Allegheny County Health Department’s proposed coke oven regulations violate the terms of a 2019 settlement between it and the agency.

The county proposed the regulations earlier this year to lower Clairton’s emissions of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that produces a rotten egg smell. But US Steel has asked a hearing officer to block the rules.

The company said the health department hasn’t shown that the new regulations are technically feasible, or that they would improve air quality near the plant. It said both are required by the 2019 settlement.

“Unfortunately, we are at an impasse on portions of ACHD’s proposed coke oven regulation changes, therefore, we have filed a petition for review of proposed coke oven rule changes,” the company said in a statement.

The company said in a legal brief the county is not “honoring its end of the bargain” struck by the 2019 agreement. That agreement concerned persistent air quality violations at the plant over the course of years, and resulted in a $2.7 million fine against the company.

The county and environmental groups have opened a separate legal case over the environmental impacts of a December 2018 fire at the plant that knocked out pollution controls for several months and led to breathing problems for many residents.

Rachel Filippini of the Group Against Smog and Pollution says the new rules would protect Pittsburghers from pollution. Clairton is by far the single largest source of hydrogen sulfide pollution in the state. It accounts for 72 percent of all hydrogen sulfide emissions in the state, and 93 percent of all such emissions in Allegheny County. In April, the county cited the plant for causing a nearby air monitor to exceed state hydrogen sulfide limits 32 times in the last two years.

“It’s been an ongoing, persistent issue for years,” Filippini said. “And (this regulation) was one strategy at getting at that. And now U.S. Steel is saying, ‘No, this should not be pursued.’

“The Clairton coke works is the primary source of those emissions. And so we believe that the coke oven regulations might be one way for the county to get at reducing those emissions and have the benefit of reducing other pollutants from that industry as well.”

A health department spokesman, citing litigation, declined comment. The agency has until Oct. 8 to submit a written response.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.

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Corrected: October 1, 2021 at 2:53 PM EDT
A previous version stated Clairton exceeded federal hydrogen sulfide limits. The plant caused a nearby air quality monitor to exceed state limits, not federal limits.