Pittsburgh, Pa. - Four environmental organizations today provided notice that they intend to sue owners of a steel plant in Western Pennsylvania for violating the federal Clean Air Act by releasing far more pollution than a permit for the plant allows.
The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), PennEnvironment, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Clean Air Council are taking action against the Allegheny Ludlum plant in Brackenridge, about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
“Allegheny Ludlum has been breaking air pollution laws for 15 years, and we've all been breathing their illegal emissions,” said Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of GASP. “Our region is already struggling to attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards, so there should be no tolerance for companies that play loose with the laws and with our health.”
The steel plant has exceeded legal limits from a 2002 permit for nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter (or soot), and carbon monoxide since installing a new pair of electric arc furnaces in 2003 and 2004.
These pollutants worsen ground-level ozone (also known as smog) and increase the risk of heart attacks, lung disease and asthma hospitalizations. Importantly, Allegheny County, where the plant is located, is out of compliance with federal standards for ozone and particulate matter.
But instead of cracking down on the pollution from the plant, the Allegheny County Health Department last year tried to let the owners of the plant off the hook by issuing a new draft permit that would significantly raise the allowable levels of pollution. The plant is owned by Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Ludlum, LLC, ATI Flat Rolled Products Holdings, LLC, and Allegheny Technologies Incorporated.
To stop the dangerous emissions, a coalition of environmental organizations objected to the county’s proposed changes to the permit last fall. And then today, the groups filed a notice of intent to sue Allegheny Ludlum for violating the terms of the 2002 air pollution control permit for the plant.
“This is about protecting the health of everyone who lives downwind from this plant,” said Patton Dycus, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, which represents GASP and PennEnvironment in the legal action. “Illegal air pollution is not something that we should
ignore, because it can literally kill – especially the elderly, young and people suffering from lung or heart diseases.”
Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council, said: “Longstanding noncompliance with air emissions limitations is unacceptable as a matter of law and policy. The facility has imposed an unnecessary health burden on a county already suffering from considerable air pollution problems."
"Clean air is a right, not a privilege," said PennEnvironment's Pittsburgh organizer Stephen Riccardi. "We owe it to the children of Pittsburgh, those who suffer from respiratory problems and future generations to do everything in our power to rein in illegal polluters who put them at risk."
There is no doubt that the plant has been violating the terms of its 2002 air pollution control permit, because both Allegheny Ludlum and county health department officials have recently noted in public records that the plant has not met its permit limits.
Although the 2002 permit required Allegheny Ludlum to test the emissions from its electric arc furnaces in 2016, Allegheny Ludlum failed to do so, which prevented local residents and environmental organizations from obtaining more information about the continuing violations at the plant.
The Clean Air Act allows concerned citizens to sue polluters when government regulators refuse – or do not have the resources -- to enforce the law. At least 60 days before such a suit is filed, citizens must provide notice of their intent to sue.
In this case, the environmental groups plan to sue Allegheny Ludlum to require the company to pay penalties and take action to come into compliance with the plant’s permit, either by installing up-to-date equipment or by improving operations to reduce pollution.
The county has yet to issue a type of Clean Air Act permit for the plant, called a “Title V” operating permit, although it was required to do so almost 15 years ago. Those permits are supposed to contain monitoring requirements that allow citizens and regulators to regularly ensure that facilities are meeting their limits. The county’s 2002 permit for the plant’s electric arc furnaces does not include the kind of monitoring requirements that would be mandated by a Title V permit, which would have brought the violations to light much earlier.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.
GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) is a Pittsburgh-based environmental non-profit founded in 1969 and dedicated to improving air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania and surrounding regions.
Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization serving Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Council is dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment. For over 50 years the Council has worked through a broad array of related sustainability and public health initiatives, using public education, community action, government oversight, and enforcement of environmental laws.
PennEnvironment is a citizen-based environmental advocacy group working to promote clean air, clean water and protect our natural heritage. To find out more, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 888-2703 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Baillie, Group Against Pollution and Smog (GASP), (412) 924-0604 ext. 202 or john@gasp- pgh.org
Chris Ahlers, Clean Air Council, 215-567-4004 x 125 or email@example.com
David Masur, Penn Environment, (215) 732-5897 ext. 1 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PennEnvironment is an environmental advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.PennEnvironment.org