News

05/06/2021 - Study finds patients near US Steel plant had worse asthma after 2018 fire

US Steel says it spent $300 million on environmental improvements on the site since the fire, and is in favor of some enhanced public communication system. 

05/06/2021 - To cut methane leaks — and maybe work on their image — 2 Pa. gas drillers eye ‘responsibly sourced’ label

The companies are launching pilot programs to produce gas without harmful methane leaks. There are business reasons to do that, experts say.

05/05/2021 - State climate report predicts nearly six-degree temperature rise, more heat waves and intense storms by 2050

The report uses a worst-case scenario climate model, with no assumed solutions, to make its projections.

05/05/2021 - Legislature revives effort to create special standards for conventional drillers

House Bill 1144 allows companies to spill up to five barrels of oil spills and up to 15 barrels of wastewater without reporting them to the state.

05/04/2021 - Wolf takes next step to start carbon emissions caps in 2022

If Wolf is successful, Pennsylvania would become the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy or join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

05/03/2021 - Law meant to push drilling further from houses had little impact, study finds

The proportion of wells built within the 500-foot distance of a building fell from 8.6 percent of wells prior to the law to 5.7 percent after. But the study's authors said that trend was already occurring before the law was passed.

04/30/2021 - US Steel cancels $1B upgrade to Pittsburgh plants

US Steel said Friday it is scrapping plans for a $1 billion upgrade to its Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, near Pittsburgh. The steelmaker said it will also shutter three coke oven units at its plant in Clairton.

US Steel first announced plans for what it called an “endless casting” mill at the Edgar Thomson plant in 2019. Back then, the company said the new mill would keep steelmaking in Pittsburgh with fewer emissions.

“I have never been more confident in the future than I am right now at U.S. Steel,” president and CEO David Burritt said at the time.

But in an earnings call Friday morning, Burritt said the company is now canceling the project.

“This is not a decision we took lightly,” he said. Burritt explained that part of the reason was the company’s desire to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“When facts change, we must change,” Burritt said. “Today’s Mon Valley announcements are informed by our expanded understanding of our steelmaking future and accelerated approach to reducing our carbon and capital intensity.”

At the same time, the company, Burritt said, was closing coke oven batteries 1, 2 and 3 at Clairton, the largest cokemaking plant in North America. The three units account for about 17 percent of the plant’s output. Coke, a key component in steelmaking, is made by baking coal at high temperatures, and is used to make steel at the company’s Edgar Thomson works. But the process creates emissions like fine particles and soot, and also carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming. Worldwide, steelmaking accounts for around 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The company said it was going to emphasize “sustainable steelmaking” at Big River Steel, a company it bought in Arkansas, which uses a different process that creates fewer emissions.

The company said it is still making steel in the Pittsburgh area for the foreseeable future for appliances and construction. “To be very clear, this is not the end of the Mon Valley works,” Burritt said.

In a written statement, the company noted the project had waited two years for air permits from the Allegheny County Health Department. The statement said that during the delay, the company’s priorities around cutting emissions shifted.

“This delay allowed for a consequential window of time during which we expanded our understanding of steelmaking’s future in a rapidly decarbonizing world,” the statement said.

Health Department Deputy Director of Environmental Health Jim Kelly said in a statement he was “disappointed” at the “suggestion by US Steel that their decision was based in part on the ACHD’s permitting process.”

Kelly said the agency “worked closely with US Steel for an extensive period of time on this project, starting in May 2019. Certainly, COVID-19 had an impact on how all organizations operated,” and that during the pandemic the agency “continued to work proactively to move this project along.”

The announcement prompted a barrage of finger-pointing aimed at politicians, the county government, environmental groups and US Steel.

An industry group, Pittsburgh Works Together, blamed the health department, “so-called environmental groups,” and local politicians for the cancellation of the project.

“The broad failure of local officials to rally around this massive reinvestment in the last of steelmaking in the Mon Valley reinforces the perception that the region and Pennsylvania are openly hostile to job-creators,” said Jeff Nobers, the group’s executive director, in a statement. “The (project) was intended to allow the Mon Valley Works to manufacture lighter stronger steel intended for the auto industry which in turn would have resulted in more efficient cars with lower emissions…(n)ow that won’t happen here.”

Environmental groups had mixed reactions to the announcements. On the one hand, fewer emissions from the coke plant, the largest single source of particle pollution in Allegheny County, would improve Pittsburgh’s air. On the other, the potential for job losses as a result of the cancellation would sting the region, they said.

“For too long, U.S. Steel has run roughshod over our environmental protections and churned out dangerous levels of harmful air pollution. Closing these batteries is a necessary and long-overdue step toward reducing that damage and cleaning our region’s air,” said Zachary Barber, clean air advocate for PennEnvironment, in an email.

The Breathe Project said in a statement US Steel reneged on its promise of cleaner steelmaking in the Pittsburgh region. “Instead of embracing innovation, investing in the Mon Valley and improving quality of life while securing employment, the latest announcement follows a pernicious cycle that leads to abandoning Mon Valley workers, communities and residents,” the statement said.

On Facebook, state Rep. Austin Davis, a Democrat representing the 35th district, said US Steel executives “have broken their promise to the Mon Valley and its own workers by scrapping a plan that would have made the Mon Valley Works the first project of its kind, provided cleaner air for our community and good jobs that would have helped this area prosper for decades.”

Chardae Jones, the mayor of Braddock, said she was disappointed because the project promised continued investment in the Mon Valley with fewer emissions that plague the area, which has the worst air quality in the county.

She said she’d thought “the millions of dollars they were going to put into the Mon Valley at the Braddock plant would create jobs and efficiency and would lower pollution, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. I wouldn’t want jobs to leave the community, that’s the worst fear.”

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Jones’ predecessor as mayor of Braddock and current U.S. Senate candidate, said the news was “absolutely devastating,” and blamed unnamed local elected officials for the project’s failure.

“We had the opportunity to make some of the greenest steel in the world right here in Braddock and secure the future of thousands of good paying union jobs,” Fetterman said, in a statement. “I will never understand why I was one of the only elected officials who pushed for this major project proactively and enthusiastically, while so many others turned their back on the working men and women of the Steelworkers and Building Trades in Allegheny County.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said on twitter: “Since @U_S_Steel made its May 2019 announcement, I’ve been extremely supportive of the project & vocal in that support. I’m disappointed that the company isn’t moving forward with an initiative that would have been good for our environment, our economy & jobs, and our residents.”

Tom Conway, president of United Steelworkers, which represent the 3,000 workers at the company’s three Mon Valley sites, condemned what he called “US Steel’s decision to abandon the Mon Valley project and the community” in favor of “a shiny new object”-the non-union Arkansas plant.

Conway said the company should still pursue capital upgrades at its Pittsburgh-area facilities. “Our contract with U.S. Steel requires a minimum amount of capital to be spent in our plants. The USW intends to enforce that,” he said.

A US Steel spokeswoman said the company would manage the loss of 130 coke oven jobs at the Clairton plant “without layoffs,” through retirements and reassignments. The three batteries, or units, would close by 2023.

Don Furko, president of United Steelworkers Local 1557, which represents the 1,200 workers at Clairton, said he was “absolutely disappointed” at hearing that three batteries would be closed.

“My fear is that we’ll end up with some layoffs there,” Furko said.

Furko worries what the company’s goal of getting carbon neutral by 2050 means for the long-term health of the plant, which produces 4.3 million tons per year of coke.

“That’s only 29 years away,” he said. “You’re talking about reducing carbon, the carbon footprint here? I mean, it sounds ominous. It sounds like the plant isn’t in their long term plans.”

04/28/2021 - SCOTUS hears arguments in eminent domain case involving PennEast pipeline project

New Jersey wants to block the project, saying the constitution bars the private company from seizing state-controlled land through eminent domain.

04/27/2021 - US Steel drops plan for fracking at steel mill

US Steel says it’s dropping plans for a fracking company to drill for gas at a Pittsburgh-area steel mill.  The decision comes after years of opposition to the project from some residents.

A turning point on the project came last fall, when a local zoning board denied a permit extension to Merrion Oil and Gas, the company developing the well. 

The company was planning to appeal that decision, but last week, US Steel said it’s pulling the plug on the project. In a statement, the company said it “values input from our neighbors and the communities where we live and work, as well as the open dialogue needed to balance our responsibilities to our shareholders, our neighbors, and to environmentally sustainable steelmaking.”

Edith Abeyta, with North Braddock Residents for Our Future, said the decision shows the power of collective action. For years, her group fought the well, saying it would add to the air pollution caused by the US Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works. 

“It’s incredible,” she said. “All the work that so many people have done …The people have been listened to.”

New Mexico-based Merrion Oil and Gas received a permit from East Pittsburgh Borough for a conditional use to drill and frack a well at US Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in 2018. 

But Abeyta and others in her group, along with several environmental groups, fought the project. In October, East Pittsburgh officials denied a crucial permit extension.

 “Their willingness to stand up to not only the oil and gas industry, but also to US Steel is…a great example of democracy in action,” Abeyta said. 

In an email, Merrion Oil and Gas operations manager Ryan Davis said the company was dropping the appeal of its zoning permit denial, and had agreed to “abandon our efforts to drill a well at the Edgar Thomson Steel Mill.”

04/27/2021 - Senate moves new bill to keep Pa. out of RGGI without General Assembly’s OK

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 119 along party lines.