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Residents Slam IDEM and US Steel

Sep 27, 2007

NW Indiana Times

GARY | Just five days before their comment period expires, residents spoke out Wednesday at the second and final hearing about U.S. Steel Gary Works' wastewater discharge permit renewal.

Attendants criticized the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for relaxing environmental guidelines and U.S. Steel for not going beyond those guidelines and trying to eliminate discharges altogether.

Residents expressed concern about the company's mercury emissions, which IDEM officials said would be placed under a strict limit with the new permit, something the company had not faced in the past.

Chesterton resident John Crayton called the data in U.S. Steel's permit "completely unintelligible" and asked if there was a simple answer to whether pollution will increase in Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River.

"Don't you need to know the answer to that question before you do anything else?" Crayton asked.

With its new permit, U.S. Steel faces an interim compliance of five years to achieve lower discharge limits of materials including mercury, ammonia and suspended solids.

IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly defended the five-year allowance, saying it takes time for companies to adjust down pollution levels.

U.S. Steel officials stood by the company's permit and provided prepared comments, saying the permit calls for stricter discharge limits, not increases. The company said its method for reporting mercury had not been as accurate as its future method will be.

The company plans to apply for a variance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard for mercury, saying that a lack of technology prevents industries and municipalities from achieving the guideline.

Crayton and other residents said IDEM's system for filing and tracking permits is confusing and disorganized.

"You've hit on a really major problem," Easterly told the crowd, "and we're working on it."

Larry Davis, a Hebron-based electrician for Mittal Steel, called relaxing or ignoring environmental rules bad business. He said it is a myth that environmental concerns cost jobs and that when companies don't upgrade and modernize treatment facilities, business suffers.

IDEM's Easterly said he did not know how many comments on U.S. Steel's permit had been submitted so far. The public has until Monday to submit comments, and IDEM cannot issue the company's permit until it has addressed all of the concerns, Easterly said.

U.S. Steel's permit is one of 11 major discharge permits long administratively extended by IDEM that the agency is attempting to update. Easterly said the agency has made progress with the backlog, but that it will not renew the major permits by the end of the year.


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