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Federal judge kills part of U.S. Steel suit

Updated: May 23, 2014 6:26AM



A federal judge has dismissed a portion of a lawsuit that contended that U.S. Steel Gary Works improperly bypassed government oversight and pollution controls when it renovated a blast furnace 24 years ago.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon granted U.S. Steel’s request to reconsider his earlier decision that blocked federal attorneys only from seeking fines against U.S. Steel but allowed them to continue to seek an injunction against the company.

Simon says in his new opinion that a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, written just before his original ruling, supported U.S. Steel’s request to dismiss that count of the lawsuit entirely.

At issue was work done to the Gary mill’s Blast Furnace No. 4 in 1990. In an August 2012 lawsuit, the government claimed that U.S. Steel misled federal regulators by saying it shut down the furnace only to reline its interior when the company did much more to the furnace,

That additional work amounted to a major change to the furnace and should have started a review and permitting process that would have required U.S. Steel to install the best pollution control technology available at the time, according to the suit.

The government requested an injunction and fines against U.S. Steel for the alleged violation, but U.S. Steel argued that part of the suit should be dismissed because it was nullified by a five-year statute of limitations.

Simon initially agreed in August that the time limit barred the government from seeking fines against U.S. Steel but not an injunction.

In his new finding, the judge says that when he initially read the appeals court’s decision in a similar lawsuit against Midwest Generation, he thought the court had ruled that the five-year limit applied only to fines. But a more thorough reading of the decision shows that it also included injunctions within the time limit.

“All of which makes the claim in this case — coming more than 20 years after the construction permit violation — woefully tardy,” Simon says in his opinion.

Another charge that claims Gary Works violated visible opacity rules for air emissions more than 15,000 times from August 2006 to December 2007 still stands, as do other charges involving U.S. Steel mills in Michigan and Illinois.



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