Clairton Coke Works. Photo courtesy of Breathe Project. Photo by Mark Dixon / Blue Lens.

You’ve likely heard: After its second fire in less than six months, U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility resumed operation as of Tuesday.

The embattled coal processing facility had been shut down since early Monday when a fire broke out in one of the plant’s control rooms. Later that day, the Allegheny County Health Department issued an enforcement order requiring U.S. Steel to repair its systems within 20 days or risk a complete shutdown.

Inspectors verified the repairs on Tuesday morning and said the plant is now operating within local air quality standards: “As desulfurization has been restored, the concerns of the order have been met,” said the Health Department’s statement.

But while the threat of a shutdown is gone for now, the incident will have an effect on the ongoing legal struggles between the County and U.S. Steel.

“I‘m very disappointed that this is happening again,” wrote County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in a public statement on Monday. “People in this community need assurance that the pollution control equipment is reliable and usable. Organizations with critical systems like hospitals have to ensure that there are redundancies and backups. U.S. Steel shouldn’t be any different.”

Fitzgerald praised the Health Department for quickly issuing the emergency order, and said: “I urge them to continue pushing the company to do what is necessary today to protect the health of our residents.”

When speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, the Health Department’s Public Information Officer Ryan Scarpino declined to comment on further enforcement actions related to this weekend’s fire.

But the incident appears to be impacting the company’s legal fortunes. On Tuesday, a judge approved the Allegheny County Health Department’s motion to join a class action lawsuit against U.S. Steel that began in April by the National Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment.

That lawsuit is a result of last year’s fire, and Tuesday’s ruling means all penalties in the case will be sought through the federal judicial system.

In the last several months, U.S. Steel has pledged several times to rebuild their facilities to meet the highest environmental standards, a process that Lt. Governor John Fetterman claimed he witnessed firsthand during a tour of the plant in February.

Local environmental advocates are wary.

“How any elected official, union official or local community can place its confidence in this corporation to do its business safely, and in a manner that protects public health and the environment, is a mystery,” said Jacquelyn Bonomo, president and CEO of PennFuture.

Although PennFuture “applauds the quick actions of the Allegheny County Health Department,” Bonomo said this week’s fire “proves, yet again, that U.S. Steel must make significant improvements and investments into this dysfunctional and fading industrial facility.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.