The new coke: At Clairton, U.S. Steel invests in jobs and health

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U.S. Steel marked an achievement last Thursday, and the Pittsburgh region should celebrate, too.

Two months after it became operational, a new battery at the Clairton Coke Works was formally commissioned before an invited audience of public and private officials. The renovation was notable not just because it was a $500 million investment in the century-old plant, but because the massive overhaul will improve the Mon Valley's air quality and simultaneously secure thousands of jobs at three facilities.

The Clairton plant takes coal and turns it into coke, an essential ingredient in steel. The new battery of coke ovens replaces a dirty, inefficient system from 1955, giving Clairton's 1,300 workers a new lease on life. Downstream in the steel-making process, another 1,400 company employees at the Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock and the Irvin plant in West Mifflin will get added job security now that Clairton will be able to turn out 960,000 tons of coke a year.

The project will be a boon to people's lungs, too, since the pollution-generating coke process has been the chief culprit in harmful air emissions in the area around Clairton. The modern unit is helping the plant curtail the output of bad air and meet quality standards ahead of schedule.

Although U.S. Steel initially had planned to close and replace three oven batteries at a cost of $1.1 billion, its decision instead to install one new battery and new quench towers to cut pollution at the other two batteries still represents a major step forward.

Good for jobs. Good for health. Good for the region.

We can all breathe to that.

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