Pa. Enviros To Sue ArcelorMittal For EPA Violations

By Alex Wolf

Law360, New York (August 4, 2015, 4:10 PM ET) -- A Pennsylvania environmental group announced Tuesday it has taken the initial steps to bring a lawsuit against steel manufacturing giant ArcelorMittal USA Inc. to address hundreds of ongoing Clean Air Act violations stemming from the dispersal of soot and acidic gases from a coke plant near Pittsburgh.

PennEnvironment, a non-profit with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, said in a news release Tueday that it has sent pre-suit notice letters to ArcelorMittal, as well as state and federal regulators, alleging the company's Monessen Coke Plant is “fouling the air over a wide swath of southwestern Pennsylvania” and has showered residents in nearby towns with soot, acidic gases and noxious odors since the decades-old facility went back into operation in April 2004.

“I’ve met with residents who live in towns all around this plant, and their stories about air pollution from this facility are gut-wrenching,” PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur said in a statement. “Ever since the Monessen Coke Plant re-opened last year, local residents have had their quality of life diminished, have endured ongoing odors and soot, and have had to fear for their health and the health of their families. This is appalling and unacceptable.”

PennEnvironment claims that the plant, located 25 miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River, uses 56 ovens to heat coal at high temperatures to produce nearly 1,000 tons per day of coke, a form of carbon that is added to molten iron to produce steel, which is shipped to ArcelorMittal’s various North American steel mills.

The environmental group states that the production of coke creates massive amounts of toxic gases and pollutants that can cause serious environmental and public health problems when released to the surrounding environment.

The notice letter alleges that the Monessen plant has violated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations by operating while a key air pollution control device was out of service, repeatedly exceeding facility pollution limits for various gases and failing to install a mandatory monitoring device to track the amount of hydrogen sulfide coming from the smokestacks, among other violations, PennEnvironment said.

The “citizen suit,” which can be filed after first providing 60 days' notice of an intent to sue, will seek a court order requiring the Monessen Coke Plant to comply with its Clean Air Act permit, as well as civil penalties against ArcelorMittal to punish it for past violations and to deter future violations, Masur said.

ArcelorMittal, which purportedly earns $80 billion in revenue internationally each year, saw the same plant hit with a separate class action in June by nearby residents seeking monetary damages for claims similar to the ones alleged by PennEnvironment.

The odors and particulates cause nearby residents to have to stay inside their homes, constantly clean their properties and avoid inviting guests over, the class alleges.

A representative for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

--Additional reporting by Lisa Ryan. Editing by Philip Shea.