U.S. Steel Gary Works sued by feds for air violations
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2012 1:18PM
U.S. Steel Gary Works Photographed May 17, 2006. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:40PM
U.S. Steel violated the Clean Air Act numerous times — in one case, more than 15,000 times — at its Gary Works facility and two other plants in Michigan and Illinois, according to a lawsuit filed by the federal government Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond.
The suit said that from 2008 through 2011, three violation notices have been sent to the Gary Works plant, two to the Great Lakes Works facility in Ecorse, Mich., and one to the Granite City Works facility in Granite City, Ill.
Jill E. Ritchie, director of public policy and governmental affairs for U.S. Steel, said in a statement that the claims made in the lawsuit are “inaccurate and misleading.”
The suit, which also names the state of Indiana as a plaintiff, focused on three areas of violations for the Gary Works plant.
The first focused on work that was done to the Blast Furnace No. 4 in 1990. According to the lawsuit, the project was considered a major change that resulted in “significant” increased emissions of particle matters, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tracks the levels of these and other air pollutants in Northwest Indiana and makes sure they are below federal standards.
An area is ruled as in attainment when it does meet them.
However, the company never applied for permits and reviews that would guarantee it was using technology to control the release of the pollutants, the suit says, and never actually installed these technologies.
The second claim says that the Gary Works site has violated visible opacity rules of air emissions more than 15,000 times.
Three of the coke battery underfire stacks at Gary Works appear to be by far the biggest violators. The lawsuit says that U.S. Steel reported these three stacks violated opacity limits 15,113 times for a total of 63 full days from August 2006 to December 2007.
The stacks are not supposed to have an opacity level of more than 20 percent for an average of six minutes, according to the suit.
Other sources of emissions at the Gary Works site had anywhere from one to 20 visible opacity violations, the suit says.
Finally, the suit claims the Gary Works facility violated another permit, Title V, by not reporting everything it was supposed to.
This includes the changes made to Blast Furnace No. 4 along with three other sites of pollutant emissions.
U.S. Steel potentially faces millions of dollars in fines. The violations range anywhere from $25,000 to $37,500 per day.
The government is asking that U.S. Steel apply for the correct permits using all the correct information and that it install the best technology to deal with the pollutants.
However, Ritchie said these issues were taken care of years ago and that the company has already spent millions of dollars to fix them.
She said all the work on Blast Furnace No. 4 was performed with the proper reviews, approvals and permits.
“U.S. Steel will vigorously defend this action and its substantial financial investment in environmental controls and its commitment to protecting the environment in Indiana and elsewhere,” she said.
Rob Elstrom, a public information officer with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said IDEM did not have a comment on the lawsuit but did say that Northwest Indiana has met attainment levels for air pollutants for several years now.
“We want people in the area to know they are breathing healthy air,” Elstrom said.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said U.S. Steel informed her of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon.
“They’ve worked very hard to cooperate with the investigation,” Freeman-Wilson said. “Their sense is it’s a bit unfair. Of course, in any type of investigation, it all comes out in the wash.”