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Pollution Suit Carries Upgrades, Penalties for PA Coke Plant

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, agreed Wednesday to spend $3 million settling claims over its coke plant outside Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH (CN) - ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, agreed Wednesday to spend $3 million settling claims over its coke plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania.

Since its receipt of an operating permit in 2014, the Monessen plant’s coke production has faced dozens of inspections by state and federal environmental regulators.

The settled complaint filed this morning in Pittsburgh notes a series of violations that these inspectors observed.

Specifically these inspections found visible emissions at two of the plant’s combustion stacks.

In violation of Pennsylvania’s air-quality plan, as well as the plant’s permit and the federal Clean Air Act, the opacity of these emissions was “equal to or greater than 20% for a period or periods aggregating more than three minutes in a one hour period and/or (b) equal to or greater than 60% at any time,” according to the complaint.

Regulators say ArcelorMittal’s air-cleaning device, installed for the control of pushing emissions, was another source of improper pollution.

Per the terms of Wednesday’s settlement, ArcelorMittal’s will pay more than $1.5 million in penalties divided equally between the U.S. and the state of Pennsylvania. The installation of air-pollution controls to limit particulate and sulfur-compound emissions will cost the company another $2 million.

ArcelorMittal spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford noted that ArcelorMittal resumed coke production at the Monessen plant in 2014 “to improve our domestic steelmaking supply chain.”

“Restart of the plant proved to be challenging, and the environmental performance during this period was unacceptable,” Holdford said in an email. “Since then, ArcelorMittal Monessen has been operating under new leadership and working diligently to improve the facility's performance through a series of investments and actions. Over the last two years, the facility has been on a path of continuous improvement, and we are committed to achieving and maintaining full compliance with all environmental permits."

Holdford also emphasized the company’s hope to move forward in an environmentally friendly manner.

"We know that being a trusted and responsible user of our natural resources is the price of admission in today’s metals and mining business,” Holdford said. “We are glad to have reached this settlement with our stakeholders. We look forward to continuing to work with our suppliers, customers and the community to ensure our operations remain responsible and viable."

Cosmo Servidio, mid-Atlantic regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile touted the settlement as evidence of the Clean Air Act’s power to reduce harmful air pollutants.

“Because of the act, Americans breathe less pollution and face lower risks of premature death and other serious health effects,” Servidio said in an email.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood echoed Servidio’s sentiment. “This settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants, benefiting the health and environment of residents around the Monessen coke plant,” Wood said.

The settlement describes the harmful particulate matter as including microscopic solids or liquid droplets that can cause serious health issues when inhaled, particularly for children, the elderly and those suffering from respiratory problems.

Holdford said ArcelorMittal worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the citizen group PennEnvironment to achieve a comprehensive settlement. "This collaboration included the company proposing to perform a full-scale trial of innovative technology to control emissions, which is included in the settlement,” she said. “ All 180-plus employees of ArcelorMittal Monessen – from management to the shop floor – are committed to implementing our obligations under the consent decree. "

Wednesday’s proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public-comment period and final court approval.

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