By Sarah Reese
A program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association on Monday slammed U.S. Steel’s wastewater plans for the Midwest Plant, saying they forced the EPA to make an 11th-hour decision.
The Environmental Protection Agency on May 30 sent a letter to U.S. Steel disapproving parts of the steelmaker’s wastewater plans, saying in part they lacked references to standard operational procedures that could help avoid or minimize impacts from spills.
U.S. Steel must submit a revised wastewater treatment operation and maintenance manual and preventive maintenance program plan within 30 days of receipt of EPA’s letter.
A public comment period on the proposed consent decree ends June 6.
“This letter really makes it clear that U.S. Steel’s plans aren’t good enough,” said Colin Deverell, Midwest program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
U.S. Steel’s plans were so vague, EPA was right to reject parts of them less than a week before the end of a public comment period, he said.
“There absolutely needs to be an opportunity for all of us to weigh in,” Deverell said. “As written, these plans will not prevent a future spill.”
The proposed consent decree does not lay out whether the revised wastewater plan must be made public, nor does it provide for additional public comment opportunities, attorneys at the University of Chicago Law School’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic said.
Rob Weinstock, an attorney at the University of Chicago Law School, said the comment period is the public’s only chance to weigh in. The consent decree, once finalized, provides for no additional public input or transparency.
Weinstock and Mark Templeton, director of the law school’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, are representing the Surfrider Foundation in its lawsuit against U.S. Steel. Surfrider and Chicago, which also sued U.S. Steel, have each agreed to put their suits on hold during the consent decree process.
“We can’t advise people on how to write their comments, but they certainly are well within their rights to request more time, more information and more opportunity for comment,” Weinstock said. “The Department of Justice would be obliged to respond to those comments.”
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