No one should be surprised by PennFuture’s plans to sue U.S. Steel Corp. over air pollution violations at the Clairton Coke Works.
Although the nation’s largest plant for producing coke used in steel making is valued for the thousand or so jobs it provides in the Monongahela Valley, it is also the region’s biggest polluter. Clairton’s emissions, which are picked up by nearby monitors, drive air quality readings for the Pittsburgh metro area and are a cause of concern for epidemiologists.
This is the unfortunate state of the air even after the company invested $1.2 billion, beginning in 2008, to replace and modernize its coking operations. The project delivered a costly and historic upgrade, which reduced emissions but not by enough.
The Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, the public interest advocacy group also known as PennFuture, said Thursday that despite U.S. Steel’s improvements at Clairton, it has been the source of 6,700 pollution violations between Jan. 1, 2012, and May 31, 2015. Careful oversight by government regulators has not halted these emissions, nor have consent decrees with the Allegheny County Health Department.
In its formal Notice of Intent to Sue under the federal Clean Air Act, PennFuture said the coke plant’s “excess particulate matter and other pollutants are regularly emitted into the air and inhaled by local citizens, likely resulting in an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, various cancers including lung cancer, chronic asthma and other illnesses that increase mortality and morbidity rates.”
That claim, which will be aired in U.S. District Court, only adds to the bad news already facing the steel company. Last Wednesday it reported a $1 billion fourth-quarter loss and predicted that the domestic steel industry’s slump will continue in 2016.
Clean air standards are not something, however, that modern society upholds only in flush economic times. Americans in the 21st century deserve breathable air always, and that includes the people of the Mon Valley.