PITTSBURGH — Residents of Allegheny County vented their anger at U.S. Steel bosses and county officials at a public hearing July 30, after publication of a draft agreement that allows the company to continue operating its Clairton plant after years of violating air pollution regulations. Over 50 of the 200 people present signed up to speak.
Steel bosses operated the plant for 100 days without its desulfurization equipment working after its pollution control system was destroyed in a December 2018 fire.
In the three years prior to the fire, company bosses had “been in violation of the Clean Air Act 12 times” and have “received 33 fines from the Allegheny County Health Department in the last five years,” according to StateImpact Pennsylvania.
County Health Department officials say pollution at the plant has gotten worse since 2014 and claim that U.S. Steel tries to mask its violations of pollution controls when inspectors scrutinize the plant’s operations. The company employs some 1,200 people at the plant and produces 4.3 million tons of coke a year, a key component of steel production.
The agreement levies fines of $2.7 million against U.S. Steel and requires it to install pollution control upgrades, which the company says will cost $200 million.
Several top managers from U.S. Steel — and some workers at the plant — spoke in favor of the agreement. Mike Rhoads, Clairton plant manager, claimed, “The facility has fully complied with the terms of the county enforcement orders and its new investments will enable it to further reduce emissions at its three Mon Valley plants.”
“How can you still be in business?” asked local resident Kelly Nelson, at the hearing. “It’s unacceptable. The fines don’t come near to representing the money the company makes.”
Deborah Gentile, an asthma specialist, told the hearing that the number of acute asthma visits to clinics and emergency rooms has doubled since the fire, compared to a year earlier.
“Had you done your job, maybe the fire wouldn’t have happened,” Clairton resident Melanie Meade said. “What I do know is U.S. Steel is not in compliance with the law. You just don’t care about the health of Mon Valley people.”
Several people complained that the agreement did not force U.S. Steel to idle any coke oven battery that does not comply with pollution regulations.
Gloria Ford, also from Clairton, said she had gone to the hospital earlier this month because she had trouble breathing. “U.S. Steel acts with impunity,” she said.
“This settlement is a ‘pay to play’ scam that the bosses at U.S. Steel, in collusion with federal, state and local governments, have been carrying out for decades,” Malcolm Jarrett, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, told the hearing. “Under the capitalist system profits take priority over everything else, including workers’ lives and health on the job or in the community.
“My campaign explains that workers’ fight for safety is inseparable from the fight to end the bosses’ pollution of our air, water and land,” he said. “It is only through a fighting workers’ movement using union power to organize the protection of workers in the plant and residential areas that we can win against the bosses.”