US Steel has the right not to report pollutants from the Pittsburgh plant to the federal government
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(Reuters) – A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling on Monday that dismissed a lawsuit brought by an environmental watchdog alleging that US Steel Corp violated environmental response law , Compensation and Comprehensive Liability (CERCLA) when it reported to local authorities, but not federal. authorities, that its steel plant near Pittsburgh emitted air pollutants.
A panel from the U.S. 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that the steel giant correctly used an exception in CERCLA when it informed the county, but not coastguard officials, that its facility of Mon Valley Works had emitted benzene, hydrogen sulfide and other pollutants after fires damaged critical pollution equipment. .
The Clean Air Council, which sued the company last year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project who represented the Council, said: “The decision is unfortunate and does not advance transparency or polluter accountability.
Amanda Malkowski, spokesperson for US Steel, said, “We respect the unanimous decision of the 3rd Circuit Court that US Steel has made the appropriate notifications under the law. The Pittsburgh-based company is represented by attorneys for Reed Smith and Babst Calland.
Writing for the panel, US circuit judge Stephanos Bibas disagreed with the Philadelphia nonprofit’s interpretation of a CERCLA provision as binding, rather than exempting US Steel to report the pollution to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.
The federal agency keeps abreast of chemical releases, oil spills and other pollution emergency incidents in the United States.
Fires in 2018 and 2019 ended months-long pollution controls that process gas from the coke ovens at the company’s Clairton plant, the largest coke-producing plant in the United States.
During this period, US Steel was unable to fully process the gas. He nonetheless continued to burn it as fuel for two nearby steel mills which are also part of the Mon Valley Works complex.
US Steel has reported the fires and emissions of burning gas pollutants to the Allegheny County Health Department, in accordance with its Clean Air Act (CAA) permits at the steel plant. Pennsylvania implements CAA through local agencies, making Allegheny County the authority to which US Steel was required to report pollutant emissions.
In its lawsuit, the council claimed that US Steel was also required to report the pollution to the National Response Center.
The Commission argued that a CERCLA provision that exempts the reporting of emissions “subject” to permits or CAA regulations did not apply because the wording of the exception only refers to emissions that comply with the requirements of the CAA. CAA requirements.
Bibas, who was joined by US circuit judges Luis Felipe Restrepo and David Porter, disagreed with this reading.
When read in context, the “subject to” clause means that any broadcast “governed by” the CAA is exempt from federal reporting, he said.
Because US Steel’s emissions were governed by a permit from the CAA, even if they violated that permit, they were federally licensed and therefore exempt from federal reporting, the judge added.
In short … air emissions that violate the relevant permits of the Clean Air Act are still ‘subject’ to these permits and are therefore ‘authorized by the federal government’ and excluded from the scope of CERCLA, said Bibas.
The case is Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corp, 3rd United States Court of Appeals, No. 20-2215.
For the Clean Air Council: Lisa Hallowell and Eric Schaeffer from the Environmental Integrity Project
For United States Steel: Mark Dausch of Babst Calland and Jones Martin of Reed Smith