US Steel is prepared to pay $2.7 million to settle the numerous enforcement orders levied by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) over the last year.
While the press release announcing the preliminary deal hailed it as “groundbreaking,” some local environmental groups are skeptical.
“This settlement ensures that not only are the requirements of the 2018 order satisfied, but there will be major improvements to the battery operation,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, ACHD Director via a press release on June 28. “While we did not get everything we wanted, this settlement represents significant progress and includes vitally important components related to transparency and community benefit.”
While 90% of the money will go towards a community fund for the surrounding areas, the other 10% will go towards the county clean air fund. Per the agreement, the company will also upgrade its facilities in the Mon Valley and submit to annual third-party audits of their systems.
Even if the settlement is approved, it will not be the end of the legal conflict between the Health Department and US Steel. Early this summer, the Health Department received permission to join a federal class-action lawsuit with The Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment related to air quality violations stemming from the fire at Clairton Coke works of December 24 of 2018 which is expected to play out for much of 2019.
A 30 day public comment period for the settlement began on July 1, and there will be a public hearing on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, at 6 p.m. at the Clairton Municipal Building.
A public hearing allows verbal comments to be entered into the record and will have equal weight to any written comment received by ACHD during this public comment period which ends Wednesday, July 31, 2019, according to the press release.
This hearing will operate in the standard format that the Air Quality Program holds for permits, rules and plans. Members of the public who want to comment must sign up 24 hours in advance of the hearing by calling 412-578-8103 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Each commenter has three minutes to speak.
The full text and directions for how to submit comments online can be found here.
“I think its a positive move that the health department is taking public comment and holding a hearing,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director for the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). “I sincerely hope it’s not just for show.”
She added, “If this is already a done deal, and they’re not willing to make substantive changes, then what’s the point of giving people this opportunity?”
Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Filippini said her organization is still reviewing the full text of the settlement and will have more specific comments closer to the end of the month.
However, she already has concerns about the plans for a community benefit fund laid out in the draft, which suggests that US Steel will have some amount of control over how the funds are used and which communities may benefit.
“If US Steel is the one who administers that, that’s definitely concerning,” she said. “So we would like more clarification on exactly how that would work.”
Most of all, Filippini believes $2.7 million is just not enough.
“It sounds like a lot of money, and it’s a bigger fine than they’ve paid in the past, but if you look at the overall bottom line of the company, I don’t think this is that significant to them.”
US Steel has enjoyed significantly increased profits lately, having benefited from President Trump’s tariffs. According to a company press release, US Steel reported net earnings of $54 million in the first quarter of 2019 or 31 cents a share, compared with $18 million, or 10 cents a share, a year ago.
“When you think about the fact that the pollution from this industry has been going on for decades,” said Filippini, “this dollar amount doesn’t really represent the type of damage that they’ve been able to inflict on the community for decades.”