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

U.S. Steel Corporation could pay more than $350,000 in fines for air pollution control violations and permit violations at the Clairton Coke Works during the end of last year and beginning of this year.

The Allegheny County Health Department has issued $361,400 in stipulated penalties against the company for violations that occurred during the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.

Under a June 2019 agreement, the company would pay 90 percent of the penalties, or $325,260, to the Community Benefit Trust established for the most heavily impacted communities of Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue. The remaining 10 percent, or $36,140, would be paid to the Clean Air Fund.

“This new round of fines, unfortunately, does not come as a surprise. U.S. Steel is infamous for its emissions infractions — and has been for decades,” says Rachel Filippini, executive director at GASP, the Group Against Smog and Pollution. “Question is, are the facility improvements U.S. Steel committed to making in the June 2019 settlement agreement going to make a substantive difference in air quality?”

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan M. Cox says the company is committed to working with the Health Department and all stakeholders to improve air quality.

“U.S. Steel’s environmental performance is continuing to improve, as a result of the hard work and dedication of our Mon Valley Works employees,” Cox says. “The Clairton plant had a record-breaking month in April for battery stack opacity compliance, which is monitored 24 hours, seven days a week. The April compliance rate was 99.95 percent for the combined stacks and, for the third month this year, a perfect 100 percent compliance with the 60 percent standard.”

Cox says the Health Department’s letter “addresses asserted deviations from battery operations” from late 2019 and early 2020, and that the company is “reviewing the request for payment of stipulated penalties and is verifying that the data and demand are consistent with the conditions outlined” in the settlement agreement.

That agreement required a payment of civil penalty for past violations and the payment of stipulated penalties for deviations from certain battery opacity limits occurring after March 31, 2019, she says. The company has pledged to invest $200 million in upgrades to the Clairton plant. The coke batteries supply raw material for steelmaking by burning coal in blast furnaces to make pig iron.

The Community Benefit Trust is governed by a board composed of one resident from each of the five communities. Under its terms, the communities affected by Clairton Coke Works emissions can use funds for projects that improve, protect or reduce the risk to public health or the environment.

Administered by the Smithfield Trust Company, the trust already has more than $3.1 million from U.S. Steel, including an initial deposit of $2.4 million in July 2019.

To view Allegheny Health Department air quality enforcement actions, click here.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.