By Susan Cosier
On a late-summer morning, two surfers pull off their wetsuits in a parking lot in Portage, Indiana, a massive U.S. Steel finishing facility as their backdrop. The beach, managed by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, is home to one of the best surf spots on Lake Michigan’s south end.
Peter Matushek and Steve Haluska, Indiana natives who both took up surfing a decade ago, have just come in from the water and lean against Matushek’s black Mazda, a South End Surf Club bumper sticker on the tailgate. They’re part of a small but dedicated band of Lake Michigan surfers who endure freezing winter temperatures, unpredictable conditions, and the occasional illness.
The Justice Department also got to work on a consent decree, a legal agreement between the federal government and U.S. Steel that would require the company to improve its facility and monitoring systems in order to detect a potential spill earlier and comply with the Clean Water Act. In April, the agency published a draft and received more than 2,700 letters during the comment period. But the information U.S. Steel provided on how it would prevent future spills was inadequate, the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said. The Justice Department is reviewing the public comments and hasn’t published a revised agreement.
Meanwhile, a judge put Surfrider’s and Chicago’s lawsuit on hold until the consent decree is finalized. Even if the federal government and U.S. Steel reach an agreement, however, it won’t address all the issues at the plant, the lawyers say. On September 13, clinic attorneys Mark Templeton and Rob Weinstock asked a judge to impose stricter financial penalties, and Surfrider is prepared to resume its lawsuit.
“Big, old-school environmental problems of big companies dumping poison into public waterways, that’s not over,” Weinstock says. “If we allow our regulatory agencies to be underfunded, captured by industry, or made into political pawns, we are jeopardizing our public health and safety.”
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