Prove your humanity

This story was been updated on January 27, 2024.

U.S. Steel says it has settled a federal lawsuit over a 2018 fire at its Clairton coke works that knocked out pollution controls at the plant for months. 

The settlement, which will be lodged in federal court in Pittsburgh next week, includes the closure of one of the plant’s coke batteries, as well as $19.5 million in upgrades to its coke oven gas cleaning facilities. The agreement also includes $4.5 million for local communities impacted by the fire. 

The settlement, reached with Allegheny County, Clean Air Council and PennEnvironment, also includes local impacts from power outages at the plant in 2019 and 2022.  

Combined with $17.5 million in upgrades the plant has undertaken since the federal lawsuit was filed – the total settlement of $42 million is the largest Clean Air Act citizen’s suit ever in Pennsylvania, according to Josh Kratka, an attorney with the National Environmental Law Center, which represented the environmental groups. 

The company also agreed to about 30 percent reduction in the maximum allowable level of hydrogen sulfide pollution in the coke oven gas it burns at its facilities in the Mon Valley, Kratka said. 

The loss of pollution controls after the Christmas Eve 2018 fire led to a 4500 percent increase in sulfur air pollution from the plant. Asthma cases in the area surged, studies have shown. 

Fire at U.S. Steel

A Dec. 24, 2018 fire damaged a section of U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. Photo: U.S. Steel

The plant will close the coke oven battery 15, which has been on hot idle, as part of the settlement. U.S. Steel says no jobs will be affected.

Nippon Steel agreed to buy the company for $15 billion in December. That sale is pending regulatory approval. 

The upgrades include extensive equipment replacement, maintenance upgrades and the installation of backup generators to prevent a similar breakdown in pollution controls, Kratka said.

Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato said the settlement was “a win” for the people of the county. 

“We all deserve clean air, and when polluters violate clean air standards, they must be held accountable,” Innamorato said, in a statement. “I want to thank all the co-plaintiffs and the team at the Allegheny County Health Department who diligently worked on this case for more than five years to find a resolution that delivered economic investments for the Mon Valley and put critical pollution controls into place that benefit everyone in the region.”

In a statement, the company said: “We regret that these accidental incidents occurred and believe this Consent Decree greatly benefits Mon Valley communities.” 

Innamorato said the deal includes a $500,000 fine to the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund, and $3 million to the plaintiffs for attorneys’ fees and costs of expert witnesses over the course of the five-year case.

U.S. District Judge W. Scott Hardy cannot approve the settlement until a legally required 45-day review period ends, Innamorato said.  The EPA will be able to provide comment during that period.

The fire was the result of dilapidated equipment and corroded pipes, documents revealed in the court case showed

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