U.S. Steel commissions new, cleaner coke ovens at Clairton plant

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U.S. Steel Thursday formally commissioned a new battery of coke ovens at its Clairton plant, a $500 million project the company said will preserve steelmaking jobs in the Mon Valley and improve the region's air quality.

The project is a scaled back version of the $1 billion proposal the Pittsburgh steelmaker announced in late 2007, before the global recession decimated steel demand and caused the industry to retrench.

President and CEO John P. Surma said even after the scope was reduced, the project remained the largest in the history of the Clairton plant and one of the largest in U.S. Steel's 112-year history. He said it secures the jobs of 1,300 Clairton employees as well as the 1,400 who work at the company's Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock and the Irvin plant in West Mifflin.

The new battery uses technology that will enable the plant, long a source of air quality complaints, to significantly reduce emissions and meet certain air quality standards 18 months earlier than state officials had targeted, Mr. Surma said.

The new battery can produce 960,000 tons of coke annually. Clairton is North America's largest coke plant, producing about 4.5 million tons annually.

Coke is made by baking metallurgical coal at high temperatures, producing a fuel used in blast furnaces. Making it has been one of the most common sources of environmental complaints that steel plant operators and environmental regulators receive.

Areas near the Clairton plant and a Neville Island coke plant operated by DTE Energy Services have had some of the dirtiest air in the region in recent years, according to Allegheny County Health Department data.

United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard and local elected officials hailed U.S. Steel's commitment to provide good paying jobs to the region and improve air quality. Mr. Gerard called the new battery "the most environmentally sound, emission reducing coke plant probably anywhere in the world."

The project broke ground in October 2008, just as the recession began gripping the industry. It created about 800 construction jobs.

In its original announcement, U.S. Steel said it would build two new batteries. The project was scaled back to one and U.S. Steel agreed to make environmental improvements to three existing batteries it had planned to tear down if the second battery had been built.

U.S. Steel is nearing completion of a coke substitute project at its Gary (Ind.) Works that will produce 500,000 tons a year. Mr. Surma said the two projects will mean the company can supply all of its coke needs internally.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941. First Published February 1, 2013 5:00 AM


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