LANSING — State Representative Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said today that the proposed consent decree between Michigan and U.S. Steel is a good start, but there are aspects that should be strengthened so there would be a greater positive impact on the communities that have suffered from pollution caused by the company’s violations of the federal Clean Air Act. 

“Air quality and the resulting public health concerns are the top priority for my district — House District 6, where U.S. Steel has a facility — and I hear from residents frequently about asthma and other respiratory diseases that are linked to the high rates of air pollution,” said Chang.  “We need to do the most that we can do to improve the air quality and health of residents in Ecorse, River Rouge and Detroit.”

The consent decree is the result of a lawsuit filed in 2012 by the United States Department of Justice, the states of Indiana and Illinois and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The proposed consent order would require U.S. Steel to pay a $400,000 penalty to the state of Michigan for 139 violations of the opacity standards at it’s Great Lakes Works facility in Ecorse, and fines would also be paid to the federal government and the two other states. There were over 15,000 total opacity violations noted in the lawsuit. Opacity standards cover the amount of dust that escapes from storage piles into surrounding roads and neighborhoods. Michigan restricts fugitive dust to a maximum opacity of five percent, and the company exceeded that. It is also alleged that the company committed 18 operational violations regarding the management of the Great Lakes Works facility. Other proposed requirements include studies of U.S. Steel’s pollution control systems; environmental projects including vegetative buffer zones; and a school lighting project that would have the company remove, dispose of and replace fluorescent lighting ballasts that may contain PCBs.

“I believe that $400,000 is inadequate, considering the fact that U.S. Steel has had at least four environmental violations in the past few years in our state; the fines they have paid haven’t curbed violations. We should seek a fine that will be a stronger deterrent for U.S. Steel and other polluting companies,” said Chang. “The total amount that U.S. Steel will pay to the federal government and states, and through the various supplemental environmental projects, is only a tiny fraction of the possible maximum fine for the violations that occurred.”

Chang said that she is concerned that the penalty being paid to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will be directed to the general fund, without any way of ensuring that those funds are used to improve the air quality or public health in the communities directly affected by U.S. Steel’s violations of the Clean Air Act. 

“I am concerned that the vegetative buffer project in Wayne County is proposed for only one segment of the affected area. Ecorse and River Rouge are the cities that are home to U.S. Steel, and they should see the benefits of a vegetative roadside buffer project as well because of the pollution and dust in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the plant, especially on the residential streets immediately adjacent to the facility,” said Chang. “Lastly, I hope that U.S. Steel and the city of Detroit will have a strong public engagement process as they develop a plan for the design and locations of the vegetative buffers. In order for the vegetative roadside buffers to have the biggest impact, residents of this environmental justice community should be engaged in an authentic way for input.”