Steelworkers, state and county officials, union leaders and business executives piled into the caster maintenance building at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant Thursday for an announcement that the company plans over $1 billion in upgrades to its Pittsburgh-area plants.
The most significant overhaul will take place in that building, where the company will cast slabs of steel and roll them into coils in a single process, replacing two separate ones currently in place at Edgar Thomson.
U.S. Steel will also build a new cogeneration power plant at nearby Clairton Coke Works that will use coke oven gas to produce electricity for its Mon Valley facilities. The plant will generate hot exhaust as well, which will be further processed to create steam for use at the facility.
“I have never been more confident in the future than I am right now at U.S. Steel,” president and CEO David Burritt said. “This investment has something for everyone.”
Burritt said the upgrades have been in the works for years, and he said Edgar Thomson will be the first steel mill in the United States to use the new casting and rolling technology.
U.S. Steel’s announcement comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed against the company over the past month related to emissions problems following December’s fire at Clairton Coke Works that damaged equipment and prevented coke oven gas from going through its normal pollution controls. Another complaint could be coming, as several environmental groups on Thursday gave notice of their intent to sue, claiming U.S. Steel violated federal law by failing to report unpermitted releases of hazardous pollutants to the National Response Center.
Company officials said the upgrades will help address air quality concerns. They said the projects will make the Mon Valley facilities run more efficiently and reduce emissions. U.S. Steel estimates a 60 percent decrease in particulate matter, a 50 percent drop in sulfur dioxide and an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides as a result of its investments.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald praised the company for its planned environmental improvements.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we make our communities better, both with jobs and with the environment,” he said. “Today’s investment is an investment in both.”
One environmental group, Clean Water Action, which released a report Thursdaydocumenting air quality problems in the Mon Valley, expressed concern that the upgrades do not include an overhaul of Clairton’s coke ovens. The ovens and other parts of the plant sometimes leak raw coke oven gas, which can contain pollutants like benzene, particulate matter and hydrogen sulfide.
“There is a huge amount of pollution from the plant that will not be addressed,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.
Thursday’s announcement at Edgar Thomson drew a long list of speakers. Among them were several steelworkers, who said the company’s investment helps provide job security within the local steel industry.
Bob Williams Jr., process coordinator for blast furnace operations at Edgar Thomson, stood alongside his son who also works at the plant. He said he has worked at the facility for two decades and called the upgrades “the best news I’ve heard in 20 years.”
“This place has been putting food on my table, clothes on my back my entire life,” he said. “To hear news like this, I know it’s going to continue for my family.”
Company officials said they do not anticipate any layoffs once construction is complete on the two projects, despite increased technological efficiencies. They said some positions could be affected by attrition, and some may require retraining.
The projects still need to obtain governmental permits. U.S. Steel anticipates beginning production with its new technology at Edgar Thomson in 2022.
This story was published in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, the Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY covering Pennsylvania's energy economy.