Steelworkers Sue Oregon Steel for Excessive Air Pollution

A district court judge has given the green light to the United Steelworkers of America to sue Oregon Steel and CF&I Steel for failing to comply with federal Clean Air Act standards and limitations.

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Judge Richard Matsch of the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colo., has given the green light to the United Steelworkers of America''s (USWA) lawsuit against Oregon Steel and CF&I Steel (now doing business as Rocky Mountain Steel Mills) over the companies failure to comply with federal Clean Air Act standards and limitations.

The union filed the lawsuit in April of last year, and the company sought last month to have the citizen suit dismissed, claiming that CF&I''s settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment preempted all the violations alleged by USWA.

Judge Matsch rejected the company''s request for dismissal earlier this week, and ordered the lawsuit to go forward.

USWA''s citizen suit was amended to add a new allegation, that the company violated the Clean Air Act by failing to obtain a permit under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and install the best available control technology (BACT) at the company''s steel mill in Pueblo, Colo., before making physical and operational changes to the mill from 1992 to 1998 that have resulted in an increase in air emissions.

The amended complaint also alleges that the company failed to comply with New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) related to construction of the company''s second electric arc furnace that was constructed after October 1974.

The union reported that EPA determined in December of 1999 that the company''s electric arc furnace No. 2 is subject to the more restrictive NSPA pollution standards, and directed the state to require the CF&I mill to comply with the NSPS standards under its operating permit.

USWA reported that the company currently faces multiple actions in two states for excessive environmental pollution.

Under the Clean Air Act any person can bring a lawsuit in federal district court against a person who is alleged to have violated an emission standard, limitation or order issued by an administrator or a state with respect to these standards or limitations, and requires a 60-day notice of intent to sue for certain violations.

Section 113 of the Clean Air Act provides for civil penalties of up to $27,500 per day for each violation of emissions standards or limitations.

In addition, a compliance order issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides a stipulated penalty of $15,000 per day for violation of the state''s 205 opacity standard for air emissions and deadlines set forth within the order.

"CF&I has been blowing smoke long enough. The company has disobeyed the law for years, and now is being held accountable," said John Perquin, USWA assistant to the International secretary-treasurer. "The union, along with the state of Colorado and EPA, is seeking to have the company obey the laws that protect our health and our environment."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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