By: Michael Hawthorne

Alarmed by a recent fish-killing spill of toxic chemicals into a Lake Michigan tributary, environmental lawyers discovered a northwest Indiana steel mill violated clean water laws more than 100 other times during the past four years.

Yet their review of state records found neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the Indiana Department of Environmental Management have taken enforcement action against ArcelorMittal for the repeated violations, prompting two environmental groups to threaten a lawsuit that could force regulators to do their jobs.

Attorneys from the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago threatened to sue U.S. Steel on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that represents Lake Michigan surfers. Federal and state regulators ended up negotiating a legal settlement with the company, but Surfrider’s lawyers, joined by the Chicago Law Department, are urging a federal judge to crack down harder on U.S. Steel.

The nearly $900,000 in fines and penalties proposed by the government are woefully inadequate when compared with the ecological damage caused by U.S. Steel’s chromium discharges, the city and environmental lawyers contend.

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