U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department have reached a draft settlement agreement related to issues at the Clairton Coke Works, where two fires occurred within six months.

The agreement addresses emissions violations, orders, fines and penalty appeals in 2018 and 2019 at the coke-making facility along the Monongahela River. It was announced about a week after a fire broke out at the plant, the second in six months, following a more serious blaze on Christmas Eve.

Allegheny County’s health department issued an order in February 2018, calling on the company to halt violations of federal sulfur dioxide standards at its Mon Valley Works plants: the coke works, Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock and the Irvin Works in West Mifflin.

The accord, according to a news release from Allegheny County, requires USS to make numerous improvements at the plant. They include repairs to the batteries and battery operations to help reduce fugitive and stack emission; commitments to improve transparency; an annual audit by a third-party coke oven and air pollution control performance group; and development of “a community advisory panel of citizens and elected officials from impacted communities.”

USS also will pay all fines related to a 2018 order, totaling $2,732,504. Ninety percent of that total ($2,459,253) will go into a community benefit trust for impacted communities, and 10% ($273,250) will be devoted to a clean air fund.

Dr. Karen Hacker, the health department director, said the department had to make concessions to reach an accord.

“While we did not get everything we wanted,” she said in a statement, “this settlement represents significant progress and includes vitally important components related to transparency and community benefit. We take our responsibilities to improve air quality very seriously, and this draft agreement is another step in the ongoing efforts to ensure clean air for all.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald praised the health department for its role in forging the settling. He said in a statement: “I have always asked that the department do everything in its power to ensure that the industry is meeting its obligations and responsibilities, and that we are protecting our citizens, and this agreement is a significant step towards meeting those goals.

“I look forward to U.S. Steel meeting these obligations that will benefit our county, our air quality, the impacted municipalities and their communities and residents.”

The draft settlement will be subject to a 30-day period for public comment, beginning Monday.

“This settlement ensures that not only are the requirements of the 2018 order satisfied, but there will be major improvements to the battery operation,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, ACHD Director. “While we did not get everything we wanted, this settlement represents significant progress and includes vitally important components related to transparency and community benefit. We take our responsibilities to improve air quality very seriously, and this draft agreement is another step in the ongoing efforts to ensure clean air for all.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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