Legal, Water Quality
December 15 2017

Updates in Surfrider’s Campaign to Hold U.S. Steel Accountable for Polluting Lake Michigan

by Staley Prom

The wake from Surfrider Foundation’s Notice of Intent to Sue U.S. Steel has continued to generate strong pressure on regulators to take meaningful enforcement action against U.S. Steel for its toxic discharges into Lake Michigan.  A week after sending the 60-Day Notice to U.S. Steel, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management - which is the first step required for citizen suits under the Clean Water Act - Surfrider’s NOI prompted the City of Chicago to send a similar notice of its intent to sue the company, which attached and incorporated Surfrider’s NOI and its claims.  Additionally, through our attorneys with the University of Chicago Law School’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, Surfrider has continued its investigations, finding out just this week that U.S. Steel failed to perform necessary testing to determine the true threat posed by its October chromium violation.  Check out this coverage of Surfrider’s research in the Chicago Tribune.

The media has also since reported that state and federal regulators intend to seek penalties against U.S. Steel and are negotiating a settlement with the company to be filed in federal court.  Based on how deadlines in the Clean Water Act work, we anticipate some formal action by U.S. EPA by mid-January. 

This week, both the Surfrider Foundation and the City additionally sent letters to U.S. EPA Region 5 asking that Surfrider and the City be allowed to directly participate in any negotiations around a consent decree between EPA, U.S. Steel, and IDEM, and informing EPA that Surfrider and the City intend to intervene in the case should an enforcement action be filed in federal court.  Should regulators proceed with filing a settlement in court, as indicated, Surfrider plans to oppose any inadequate settlement terms and ensure adequate remedial measures are required to correct U.S. Steel’s maintenance and operations deficiencies which have led to more than 50 Clean Water Act violations in the past 5 years.  The Surfrider Foundation will also press for a meaningful financial penalty that deters future violations and, ideally, provides for the penalty money to be spent improving local environmental conditions.  

In the meantime, members of the public can lend their support and send letters asking EPA and IDEM to hold U.S. Steel accountable for polluting Lake Michigan.  Click here to take action and send your letter.  

To learn more about U.S. Steel and this matter, check out this piece broadcast earlier this week on Chicago’s WTTW, featuring the Surfrider Chicago Chapter Chair Mitch McNeil, and attorney Mark Templeton, who with the University of Chicago Law School’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, is generously representing Surfrider in this matter.   

* Photo by Mike Killion // @killertown