Clairton Coke Works image via Mark Dixon/Blue Lens / Flickr.

While battles over the Clairton Coke Works continue to wind their way through the legal system, local activists are moving to the court of public opinion.

This week, the environmental advocacy organization PennFuture launched a new ad campaign aimed at pushing for practical repairs and reinvestments at the controversial Clairton Coke Works, which is still in the process of repairing damage from a fire that took place in December 2018.

“This campaign is explicitly directed at U.S. Steel,” says Jacquelyn Bonomo, CEO of PennFuture. “We are offering a couple of ideas that feel particularly reasonable and rational in terms of what we think needs to happen at Clairton, if it is going to be an ongoing employer and facility in the region.”

The Toxic Neighbor campaign, which will be advertised all over the region via ads and social media posts, centers on three specific recommendations.

Advertisement image courtesy of PennFuture.

First, the group implores the company to shut down batteries 1, 2 and 3 at the plant, as they are the oldest and most polluting. Second, they ask for investments in advanced systems and technology that will ensure better air quality. Third, U.S. Steel should commit to full transparency in their operations.

Such investments are “needed to unwind the legacy of pollution that particular facility has had,” says Bonomo. “It’s important that significant investments and significant upgrades are made so that we’re not dealing with these pollution problems and these health problems on a daily basis.”

The group’s website offers a petition for concerned citizens to sign, as well as a variety of ways people can take action in their own communities.

Bonomo points out that the company has committed to similar renovations at other facilities around the nation. In the last year, the company pledged to spend hundreds of millions updating facilities in Indiana and Alabama.

In an email to NEXTpittsburgh, U.S. Steel writes, “Diverting resources to hot idle or permanently retire batteries would slow down the pace of repairs on equipment impacted by the Dec. 24 fire at the Clairton Plant and adversely impact the facility’s operations and environmental performance for several years. We have devoted all available resources and personnel towards mitigation efforts to minimize air quality impacts and complete repairs as quickly as possible.”

The new push is a revamped version of a previous Toxic Neighbor campaign that PennFuture ran over the course of 2017 to mobilize activists and raise awareness about local polluters.

“That campaign, along with the work of our partner organizations, proved very successful,” says Bonomo. Since then, “we’ve seen some really important work coming out of the county. Both a more aggressive fine and penalty structure leveled against polluters, as well as their willingness to use the courts and take a much tougher hand around enforcement.”

Clairton Coke Works in the largest facility of its kind in the United States. The site operates 10 different batteries, which are essentially ovens that cook specific kinds of coal to produce materials used in the manufacturing of steel.

Bill O'Toole

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