Prove your humanity

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Allegheny County to revise its air permit for U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant to include stronger testing and monitoring requirements.

Several environmental groups petitioned the EPA to object to the permit, issued in August by the Allegheny County Health Department, because it did not require enough testing to ensure that the Braddock steel mill was in compliance with emissions limits.

In an order signed by EPA administrator Michael Regan on Feb. 7, the agency agreed with the environmental groups.

The EPA ordered the health department to “ensure that the (p)ermit contains sufficient testing, monitoring, and recordkeeping requirements to assure compliance”, or justify its permit requirements by updating the permit record “to better support its conclusions.”

A spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Health Department said the agency was reviewing the order. 

Amanda Malkowski, a spokeswoman for U.S. Steel said in a statement that the company disagreed with “many of the objections” raised by the environmental groups to the permit, which the company is also appealing. “Despite these disagreements, we intend to work with [the Allegheny County Health Department] so it can appropriately respond to the EPA’s order,” Malkowski said.

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What was in the permit?

The Title V operating permit, which spells out emission limitations and other conditions necessary for facilities to comply with the Clean Air Act, included hourly and rolling 12-month limits for several pollutants throughout the plant such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. But it only required the company to conduct tests in these locations every two, four or five years. 

“You don’t know if your permit is being complied with every hour, if you’re only taking a measurement to confirm that once every two years,” said Lisa Hallowell, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, which objected to the permit, along with the Clean Air Council and PennFuture.

“What is the point of a limit if you don’t know if it’s even going to be met?”

Hallowell said that if the permit is amended, the public will have more data to determine whether the plant is complying with the law. 

The order comes a few months after a similar one the EPA issued for the county health department’s Title V air permit for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. Environmental groups petitioned EPA to object to the county’s permit for the Clairton plant, and EPA agreed.

U.S. Steel is the largest source of particle pollution and other pollutants in Allegheny County. It recently reached a $42 million settlement for pollution generated after a 2018 fire knocked out the Clairton plant’s pollution controls.