PennFuture delivers 5,300 petition signatures demanding clean air from U.S. Steel
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 29, 2019) - Today, PennFuture mailed a petition containing more than 5,300 signatures to U.S. Steel, demanding the company modernize its facilities and stop polluting in the Monongahela Valley.
Exacerbated by the Christmas Eve fire at Clairton Coke Works and years of violations at the plant that PennFuture endeavored to litigate, PennFuture in March began circulating its Toxic Neighbor petition.
The petition details three demands: that U.S. Steel retire Clairton Coke Works’ oldest, dirtiest, and most problematic coke batteries - batteries 1, 2, and 3; that U.S. Steel modernize Clairton Coke Works by investing in technologically advanced upgrades to ensure cleaner air and safer Mon Valley jobs now and in the future; and that U.S. Steel commit to public transparency about plant operations, especially in cases of emergency.
This petition represents the voices of more than 5,300 people who have a right to clean air, as stated in the Environmental Rights Amendment of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
The right to clean air was violated when a fire occurred on Christmas Eve in 2018. During that incident, Clairton Coke Works’ desulfurization unit was damaged, causing sulfur dioxide exceedances multiple times in the span of a few months and releasing 9.3 million pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air in the months that followed. That is nine times the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted during a regular operating year at the plant.
Another fire occurred on June 17, less than two weeks after repairs from the Christmas Eve fire were completed.
There are very real consequences to inaction, or to actions that do not address the most serious pollution and public health problems. Western Pennsylvania already has some of the worst air quality in the country, and asthma rates here are much higher than the national average, especially among children.
“PennFuture started this petition with the intent of amplifying voices across western Pennsylvania that were demanding cleaner air and healthier communities,” said Jacquelyn Bonomo, President and CEO of PennFuture. “Clean air is a fundamental right, not a privilege. Residents in Clairton and beyond have spoken in a loud, unified voice. It’s time for U.S. Steel to listen.”
Two months after PennFuture started its petition, U.S. Steel announced a $1 billion investment into its facilities in the Mon Valley. The company has stated that these investments will result in lower emissions but, until permits associated with those proposed upgrades are made public, there is little available information about the project or any emission reductions purported by U.S. Steel.
In addition, PennFuture requested a meeting to further discuss the company’s planned upgrades, but U.S. Steel declined to meet. PennFuture remains open to having that conversation.
“The public has good reason to want to understand the alleged pollution reductions that will take place as a result of the proposed U.S. Steel cogeneration facility at the Clairton Coke Works,” Bonomo said. “PennFuture has serious doubts that ongoing toxic emissions from Clairton’s oldest and dirtiest batteries will be reduced through a planned cogeneration facility. We are endeavoring to understand this matter, but U.S. Steel has not been receptive to educating us.”
This petition has closed and been delivered, but ongoing and deep concerns about regional air quality persist. PennFuture, along with partners, will continue to monitor U.S. Steel and continue to advocate on behalf of residents in the Monongahela Valley and beyond.
“The more than 5,300 signatures collected from community members sends a clear signal: people are fed up with the status quo and want actions that produce real results and cleaner air,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “Residents are literally sick and tired of lip service and broken promises from U.S. Steel. We applaud PennFuture for its continued efforts that force the company to be a better, greener neighbor.”
Finally, PennFuture’s partners at Clean Water Action weighed in on the petition, demanding that U.S. Steel address the antiquated portions of its coking operations that continue to pollute in the Mon Valley.
“Hardly a day goes by without Mon Valley residents registering complaints of poor air quality from the ongoing air pollution violations from U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. U.S. Steel needs to stop ignoring the leaks and other emission problems at their coke batteries that a new cogeneration plant will not address. It's time to give Mon Valley residents some fresh air,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action.
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, fighting big polluters with legal muscle, enforcing environmental laws, and supporting legislative policy that protects public health. PennFuture is engaging and educating citizens about the realities of climate change, and giving them the tools needed to influence lawmakers on the issues. Visit www.pennfuture.org for more information.
Director of Media Relations