Court sides with U.S. Steel on portion of lawsuit

2014-04-22T18:30:00Z 2014-08-18T17:14:08Z Court sides with U.S. Steel on portion of lawsuitEd Bierschenk edwin.bierschenk@nwi.com, (219) 933-4195 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | A U.S. District Court judge, partly reversing his earlier position, sided with U.S. Steel Corp. in regard to one section of a multipart federal lawsuit against the company regarding air pollution.

Last week's opinion and order by Philip P. Simon, chief judge for the Northern District of Indiana, concerns allegations related to 1990 modifications made to a blast furnace at the company's Gary Works. 

The lawsuit contended the modifications, which allegedly resulted in a significant increase in some air pollutants, were done without the company's obtaining all the needed permits and necessary upgrades to its pollution control systems.

The company contended that the relining of Blast Furnace No. 4 was not a major modification that would have required it to obtain these permits and make the upgrades. It also argued that the five-year statute of limitations applicable to such violations had passed.

Originally, the judge ruled the statute of limitations barred any claim for damages related to the modifications, but didn't bar injunctive relief that possibly may have required the company to make additional air quality upgrades at the facility. However, Simon, in reading a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in another case, now believes injunctive relief should have also been barred.

Simon noted that "as the other claims in the ongoing case against U.S. Steel demonstrate, U.S. Steel isn't off the hook just because the construction permit claim is dismissed."

The 2012 lawsuit, jointly filed by the federal government, Indiana, Illinois and the Michigan Department of Environmental Protection, makes other claims against Gary Works regarding emissions and the company's Granite City Works in Granite City, Ill., and Great Lakes Works in Ecorse, Mich.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Steel declined to comment on the court's decision.

In August 2012, shortly after the suit was filed, Jill E. Ritchie, director of public policy and government affairs for the company, said the issues in the lawsuit already had been addressed by U.S. Steel.

"We are aware that the lawsuit has been filed, and the allegations are inaccurate and misleading," Ritchie said at the time.

"The complaint seeks to raise issues that were properly resolved years ago after the expenditure of millions of dollars. For example, part of the complaint deals with the routine repair of Blast Furnace No. 4 that occurred in 1990 — more than 20 years ago — that was performed after all proper reviews, approvals and permits were obtained. U.S. Steel will vigorously defend this action and its substantial financial investment in environmental controls and its commitment to protecting the environment in Indiana and elsewhere."

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