By Michael Hawthorne
Chicago and a group representing Great Lakes surfers urged a federal judge Thursday to crack down on U.S. Steel, accusing the Trump administration of failing to punish the company harshly enough for repeated spills of toxic chromium into Lake Michigan.
The nearly $900,000 in fines and penalties proposed by the government are woefully inadequate when compared with the ecological damage caused by chromium discharges from U.S. Steel’s Midwest Plant in Portage, Ind., according to court documents filed by the Chicago Law Department and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.
Lawyers for the surfers and city also condemned a lack of environmental improvement projects for surrounding communities and demanded an independent study of potential long-term damage caused by the company’s spills into Lake Michigan, the region’s primary source of drinking water.
Citing the steel mill’s close proximity to a Chicago drinking water intake off 68th Street, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the case before federal lawyers announced their proposed deal.
“The government’s inadequate oversight … demonstrates the need for Surfrider to remain vigilant,” Mark Templeton, the group’s attorney, wrote in its new court filing, noting that federal and state regulators had failed to penalize U.S. Steel earlier for multiple spills documented by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago.
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