U.S. Steel argues for dismissal of federal case
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2013 4:02PM
Updated: February 26, 2013 6:33AM
Attorneys for the federal government and U.S. Steel argued Thursday over whether the Gary Works plant can still be held responsible for a change that happened 22 years ago and that the government claims added new emissions to Northwest Indiana.
The United States sued the company in August, claiming that U.S. Steel did not tell the government that it was making a major change to Blast Furnace No. 4 in 1990 that would have required it to apply for a special permit.
It now wants U.S. Steel to pay a fine of $37,500 for every day it’s in non-compliance and to amend its permit to include adding new technology that would help control those emissions.
U.S. Steel wants the count dropped, however, because it falls outside a five-year statute of limitation for penalties. J. Van Carson, one of the attorneys for U.S. Steel, argued during a hearing Thursday at the U.S. District Court in Hammond that forcing the company to try and defend a decision it made more than two decades ago would be difficult as most of the engineers who were involved have retired and some might even be dead.
Carson said the changes made were obvious and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should have realized the issue long before now.
“The fact is we made a good-faith decision, and five years was long enough,” Carson said.
U.S. Steel is saying that not only does the statute of limitations apply to the fine but also to the request that it be forced to install new technology to control emissions because that in itself is a penalty as it forces the company to spend money on the equipment. U.S. District Judge Philip Simon questioned that, however, noting that any injunction would cost a company money.
Arnold Rosenthal, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, disputed that it was easy for the EPA to discover the change. Although the government knew U.S. Steel was relining the furnace in 1990, it did not know the company was also making other changes to the cooling system inside the furnace that could not be seen, Rosenthal said. The company also never told the government about the change.
“These violations are hard to detect, and we rely on the company to report,” he said.
As for the limitations, Rosenthal said, U.S. Steel is still violating federal law by continuing to operate the furnace without the emission-control technology, which means that the statute can apply as of now.
Judge Simon balked at that argument, however, saying that in that case there essentially is no statute of limitations.
“It’s just incredible to think they have to defend actions 22 years ago,” he said.
Simon said he would try to wait to rule on the motion to dismiss until the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled on a similar case. The rest of the case against U.S. Steel, which includes another claim against the Gary Works plant for violating visible opacity rules for air emissions more than 15,000 times, will continue for now. The lawsuit also focused on two other U.S. Steel plants — the Great Lakes Works facility in Ecorse, Mich., and the Granite City Works facility in Granite City, Ill. — as well.