Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic Wins EPA Order Requiring Air Pollution Permit Upgrades for U.S. Steel Plant

Thanks to the efforts of students and faculty in the law school’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring upgrades to an air pollution permit issued for U.S. Steel Corporation’s Granite City Works facility. Acting on behalf of a grassroots environmental organization in the Metro East, the IEC hopes the revised permit will help address air quality concerns of residents living near the Granite City, Illinois facility.

The Illinois EPA originally issued the permit in September 2009, and the IEC’s client, American Bottom Conservancy, then petitioned the EPA to object on multiple grounds. Among other issues, the group challenged the permit’s omission of permit requirements regarding a newly built coke plant and its failure to require sufficient monitoring to ensure that the facility is operating within the law. Eventually, the IEC sued the EPA to force a decision on the petition; the resulting favorable decision was issued on January 31, 2011. In response to the IECs’ petition, the EPA objected to 50 different aspects of the air permit, calling them insufficient under federal law. The Illinois EPA is now required to revise the permit within 90 days.

“Consistent monitoring is important to ensure that U.S. Steel-Granite City Works is not emitting toxic air pollutants at an unsafe level,” says Kathy Andria, president of American Bottom Conservancy, in a prepared statement.

Clinic Co-Director Maxine Lipeles calls the situation a "challenging case."

"Because the U.S. Steel facility is so large and complex, and the permit alone was nearly 300 pages, this has been one of the most challenging cases," she says. "It is also one of our most compelling, because so many people live nearby this facility and are affected by its emissions. According to the EPA, the area is the worst in the country for cancer risk related to toxic air pollution.”

In addition to law students Kevin Moore, Reagan Larkin, Melissa Katz, Ben Kitto, Ben Harbuck, and Rebecca Thibault, the clinic’s  interdisciplinary teams working on this for the past two years included students from two other Washington University schools –  Jay Werber, Brent Sensenich, and Neel Kotra from Engineering & Applied Science, and Julian Beatty, Melissa Legge, Elena Kazarov, and Sam Shevick from Arts & Sciences.

Established in 2000, the IEC represents nonprofit groups, communities, and individuals who are pursuing legal action and advocacy to protect the environment and community health, but who cannot afford the legal representation and scientific expertise this requires.

In earlier advocacy with American Bottom Conservancy, the IEC assisted the organization in reaching a settlement agreement with SunCoke (and its subsidiary Gateway Energy and Coke Co.), U.S. Steel, and the Sierra Club. The settlement resolved challenges to the air pollution construction permits for the new coke plant that SunCoke and Gateway have now built at U.S. Steel’s massive steel mill in Granite City, as well as plant modifications undertaken by U.S. Steel. Key features of the settlement related to the installation of pollution controls to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter, and the creation of a $5 million trust to fund projects to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter and greenhouse gases in the Granite City area.

EPA’s order [view]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Article [view