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Region 05

Company to Pay Penalty, Reimburse U.S. for Response Costs and Damages for Chromium Spill

CHICAGO (September 2, 2021) – The United States, together with the State of Indiana, announced today that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana has approved the revised consent decree requiring U. S. Steel Corporation (U. S. Steel) to address alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal and Indiana laws by undertaking substantial measures to improve wastewater treatment and monitoring systems at its steel manufacturing and finishing facility in Portage (known as its Midwest Plant) and to strengthen and broaden U.S. Steel’s public and stakeholder notification procedures in the event of a spill or release to ground, soil or water. 

The consent decree approved by the Court also requires U. S. Steel to pay $601,242 as a civil penalty, to be split evenly between the United States and the State of Indiana, and to reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ($350,653) and the National Park Service ($12,564) for response costs incurred as a result of an April 2017 spill of wastewater containing pollutants including hexavalent chromium that entered a waterway that flows into Lake Michigan. In addition, the decree requires U.S. Steel to pay the National Park Service’s calculation of damages ($240,504) resulting from beach closures along the Indiana Dunes National Park shoreline, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s natural resource damage assessment costs ($27,512).

After lodging a proposed consent decree in April 2018, the Governments received approximately 2,700 public comments, including extensive comments from the City of Chicago and the Surfrider Foundation (plaintiff intervenors in the Governments’ action).  Having taken those comments into account, the Governments, with the concurrence of U. S. Steel, revised the proposed decree to strengthen and broaden U. S. Steel’s public and stakeholder notification procedures in the event of a spill or release to ground, soil or water. The revised decree also includes an environmentally beneficial project to be overseen by Indiana that requires water quality testing and reporting by U. S. Steel of pollutants at several shore locations along Lake Michigan, including around the Midwest Plant and near the Indiana Dunes National Park, at an estimated cost of $600,000 over three years.

“Lake Michigan is one of our most prized natural resources and we are committed to protecting it,” said EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Cheryl Newton. “EPA will continue to make sure facilities comply with the federal requirements that safeguard our communities and our lakes and rivers.”  

“We are pleased the District Court has granted the governments’ motion to enter the revised consent decree, making it an enforceable final judgment of the Court,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tina Nommay for the Northern District of Indiana.  “The revised decree requires U.S. Steel to take appropriate measures to protect and restore the waterways, including Lake Michigan, that were harmed by the April 2017 spill, and adopts the robust reporting requirements requested during the public comment period for any future spills.”

“I am proud of the work IDEM has done, along with our federal and community partners, to finalize this consent decree,” said IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott. “It requires U.S. Steel to undertake numerous measures to improve its facility which will ensure the future protection of Lake Michigan and northwest Indiana’s environment.”

Now that the decree is entered, all of the decree’s requirements, including implementation of key operation and maintenance plans and an improved wastewater process monitoring system, will be enforceable by the Governments as an order of the Court.  The decree is expected to help prevent future spills such as the April 2017 spill, and to achieve the decree’s objective of promoting U. S. Steel’s compliance with the Clean Water Act, Superfund, and the Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act and related requirements.  In addition, the State environmentally beneficial project will contribute to significant public health benefits to the communities near the plant and to those who use the popular Indiana Dunes National Park for recreation.

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Author: Editor
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