The Allegheny County Health Department has reached a settlement with a steel company over emissions violations at its Harrison Township processing facility.
The department ordered Allegheny Technologies Inc., to pay a $50,000 fine to the county’s Clean Air Fund and allow some of its property to be used as a bike lane along the Allegheny River.
Emissions from the electric arc furnaces and hot rolling processing equipment are beyond what’s allowed by health department permits. Jim Kelly, deputy director of environmental health with the health department, couldn't immediately specify how far beyond the limit the facility's pollution output has been.
Kelly said the county underestimated the emissions for the equipment when it initially issued the permits, and that the equipment was so unique there were no set standards for it.
“We developed basically incorrect emission limits for that equipment,” Kelly said. “Typically when you have a permitted emission limit it is based either on a regulation or an emission test. We had neither in this case.”
Patton Dycus, attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said that argument doesn’t hold up.
“Based on the research that we’ve done on other steel plants, plants with similar furnaces are able to meet lower limits like the limits in the current permit,” Dycus said.
A coalition of environmental groups, including EIP, threatened to sue ATI in March, alleging the company had been exceeding legal limits for nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter and carbon monoxide since 2002.
The Clean Air Act requires a 60-day waiting period after the intent to sue is announced.
Dycus said the settlement appears to be an attempt to pre-empt the lawsuit; it came just as the waiting period ended.
He said the coalition, which also includes the Group Against Smog and Pollution, the Clean Air Council, and Penn Environment, is still determining whether it will continue with the lawsuit.
Kelly said ATI will have to apply for new permits that reflect the equipment’s actual emissions, though it will continue to operate in violation of current permits.
Dycus said the health department is proposing to raise the permit limits “to unlawful levels” in violation of the Clean Air Act.
Kelly maintains that the new permits would not be in violation of federal law.