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Outgoing Mayor Bill Peduto reflects on time in city government, what’s next

Laura Tsutsui
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Mayor Bill Peduto reflects on his two terms as leader of the City of Pittsburgh, what he still hopes to accomplish and what’s next; and a look back at the fire at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, which took place three years ago this week. 

Departing Mayor Bill Peduto shares highlights and what he wishes he could have improved during his time as mayor
(0:00 - 15:05)

Bill Peduto's tenure as mayor is coming to an end after eight years in office.

“I think there were winds of change that were very relevant, not only here in Pittsburgh but throughout the country,” says Peduto. “People wanted change. I know I came in on winds of change, and I left on those winds as well.”

Mayor-elect Ed Gainey beat Peduto in the Democratic primary in May by about seven percentage points.

Peduto says voters wanted, “a more activist type of government.”

His own administration’s work, he says, transitioned city government from a stagnant role to one keeping up with the city’s change and growth.

Reflecting on his time, Peduto says he can’t pick one accomplishment. However, he can pick one area for improvement: He says he wishes the city had done a better job implementing its affordable housing trust fund and land bank.

“We were never able to get it going,” says Peduto. “I’m not only hopeful, I’m certain that the Gainey administration is going to be able to do a much better job than we did and using the same vehicles that we created, as well as the funding that came in through the Biden administration, be able to do a much better job with abandoned and vacant housing in the city of Pittsburgh.”

Looking ahead, he says doesn’t intend to run for office again. “Really for 2023, I’ll be more than likely setting up shop as a consultant and taking on about four to six clients, and I’ll be talking a little bit more about that come the middle of January.”

Bill Peduto will be succeeded as Mayor of Pittsburgh by Ed Gainey on Jan. 3, 2022.

The anniversary of the 2018 U.S Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and what court documents show about plant equipment
(15:09 - 22:30)

Three years ago this week, a fire broke out at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works on Christmas Eve. It took out key pollution controls at the site for about three months. A federal lawsuit has been brought against the company, and through that process, court documents shed light on what happened.

“There was a roof leak for probably years at the facility, and it caused a pipe to corrode, rust over time, and eventually that pipe fell onto equipment below. This happened to be connected to the pollution controls at the plant and it basically started a fire,” explains Reid Frazier, an energy reporter with The Allegheny Front.

Frazier says the pollution controls are supposed to take sulfur out of the pollution created at the plant. When the fire began, the plant was without any controls to mitigate sulfur emissions for roughly 100 days.

“There were thousands of complaints to the Allegheny County Health Department for bad air smells. People reported really having problems breathing,” says Frazier. Subsequent studies have shown an increase in hospitalizations for asthma, and other health effects at the time of the fire.

The County Health Department is a plaintiff in an ongoing court case, along with PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council. They’re asking a federal judge to find U.S. Steel guilty of over 12,000 clean air violations as a result of this fire, and they’re asking a judge to fine the company.

U.S. Steel, in court documents, has said the fire was an accident that it has spent millions of dollars to fix, and it says public health was not threatened by the fire.

There will be a hearing in January where a judge will be asked to decide if U.S. Steel is guilty of the Clean Air Act violations. After that, a penalty could be decided.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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