Prove your humanity

U.S. Steel announced it will begin closing three of its 10 remaining coke batteries at its Clairton plant later this month.

The company first announced its plan to close batteries 1, 2, and 3 – its three oldest coke batteries– two years ago. The batteries bake coal at high temperatures to make coke, a key component of steelmaking. The company says it will reassign 130 workers affected by the closure and would not lay any of them off. 

Don Furko of United Steelworkers Local 1557, which represents the 1,100 workers at Clairton, said some who work on the batteries are anxious about where they’ll be re-assigned.

“We’re doing our best to try to project where everybody’s going and to try to inform them as quickly as possible,” Furko said. “It’s just the unknown of what area of the plant they’re going to end up in.”

The move was announced in 2021 after the company walked back plans to expand and modernize its operations in Allegheny County’s Monongahela Valley. 

The company expects the move to lower emissions from the plant, by far the largest source of particle pollution in Allegheny County, by 15 to 20 percent. 

Zachary Barber, of the group PennEnvironment, said this would result in cleaner air for residents who’d fought for years for lower emissions.

“We will hopefully see a significant emissions reduction in things like fine particulate matter, which is linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to asthma to cancer and premature death,” Barber said. “Even with these batteries closed, unfortunately, U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works would likely still be one of the largest polluters (in the county). But this is a meaningful step forward.” 

In a statement, the company said the closures would not only improve local air quality but also “support the company’s ambitious climate goals.” 

“The shutdown of the Clairton coke batteries is a milestone in our constant evolution and readiness to meet America’s challenges,” said Scott D. Buckiso, a company senior vice president and chief manufacturing officer, in the statement.

The company says the shutdown has been in the works for over a year and will take six days to complete, beginning March 27. 

The three batteries were capable of processing 1,553,805 tons of coal per year, according to its Allegheny County air quality permit.

Clairton is the largest coke plant in the US, producing about 4.7 million tons of coke per year. U.S. Steel’s three plants in the Pittsburgh region drew over $9 million in air quality fines from the Allegheny County Health Department last year. 

-Jillian Forstadt of 90.5 WESA contributed to this report.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.