ArcelorMittal agrees to pay $1.5M in coke plant lawsuit

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A subsidiary of European steel giant ArcelorMittal has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit over allegations that its western Pennsylvania coke plant had violated emissions requirements over soot and other pollutants almost daily, according to a proposed agreement filed Wednesday in Pittsburgh's federal court.

The environmental advocacy group that sued, Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment, said it believes the penalty is the largest secured by a citizen lawsuit in Pennsylvania history under the federal Clean Air Act.

Federal and state officials, as well as representatives of ArcelorMittal and PennEnvironment, signed the 108-page proposed agreement.

As part of the agreement, ArcelorMittal also agreed to implement air pollution controls that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would cost $2 million. The proposed agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and must receive a judge's approval.

PennEnvironment sued in 2015, saying the plant in Monessen, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River, had committed a variety of environmental violations since reopening in 2014 after more than four years of being idle.

Those include operating the plant for extended periods while a key air pollution control device wasn't functioning and more than 200 violations of pollution limits for hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and soot. Coke is a form of baked coal that steelmakers use in blast furnaces to turn molten iron into steel.

According to the lawsuit, slightly more than 6,000 people live within a mile (nearly 2 kilometers) of the plant and more than 31,000 within three miles (about 5 kilometers) of it.

ArcelorMittal last year spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a separate lawsuit filed by area residents complaining of arsenic and coal dust falling on their properties and a pervasive rotten egg-smell that prevented them from being outdoors and that even seeped into their homes.

In a statement, the company said restarting the coke plant was challenging and its environmental performance during that period was "unacceptable." It said it has been working to improve the facility's performance and is committed to achieving full compliance with its environmental requirements.

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