JOHN BINDER 4 May 2021
Executives with the U.S. Steel Corp. announced days ago that they are canceling a $1.5 billion project in western Pennsylvania that was set to bring thousands of middle-class union jobs to the region, a move that many are now blaming on Democrats and environmental groups.
On April 30, U.S. Steel President David Burritt announced that a $1.5 billion project to majorly improve its Mon Valley Works operation with state-of-the-art steel casting, rolling technology, and a cogeneration plant is being canceled.
The project’s cancelation means that about 1,000 union construction jobs will be lost for the region. Likely thousands more U.S. jobs in supporting industries will be lost as a result.
Also, U.S. Steel is idling Batties 1, 2, and 3 at its Clairton Plant by 2023, which accounts for about 17 percent of coke production. The decision is intended to improve “environmental performance.” That decision, U.S. Steel executives said, is unlikely to lead to layoffs for its 130 full-time employees at Batties 1, 2, and 3.
The cancelation of the Mon Valley Works investment came after U.S. Steel’s permitting process with the Allegheny County Health Department was delayed due to the Chinese coronavirus crisis.
Burritt mentioned in his announcement:
We commissioned the manufacturing of the equipment and began site preparations. However, with over $170 million invested and equipment being stored in Pittsburgh-area warehouses, we’re still only at the beginning stages of project execution. By contrast, during this same time period, a competing steel manufacturer in another state announced a new steel mill and will be ready to make steel this year. [Emphasis added] A lot has changed in those two years. At the onset of the pandemic, U. S. Steel agreed with the need for the County Health Department to temporarily delay its permitting process for the Mon Valley Works, but this delay allowed for a consequential window of time during which we expanded our understanding of steelmaking’s future in a rapidly decarbonizing world. The world is changing rapidly and we’re on the ten-yard line with 90 yards ahead of us. [Emphasis added]
Republicans and others in Pennsylvania are now placing blame on Democrats and their allies in the environmental lobby for creating a hostile business environment that helped kill off the job-creating project.
State Sen. Kim Ward (R-PA) wrote in a series of posts that Allegheny County officials had kowtowed “to the extreme environmental groups without actually looking at the facts or consider the fall out.”
“What happened today is the result of local government leaders letting radical environmental groups like PennFuture, GASP and Breathe PA, funded in part by elitist Pittsburgh Foundations, bully them into abandoning blue collar workers,” Ward wrote.
Tom Melcher, with the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, blasted local Allegheny County officials for failing to work with U.S. Steel on the project.
“The lack of support, and frankly open hostility from some elected officials means the loss of four-million construction man-hours, approximately 1,000 full time union construction jobs and threatens in the longer term 3,000 steel workers,” Melcher said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that any politician or business or community leader who claims to be supportive of union jobs and a strong middle class can allow this project to be lost.”
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a populist who supported the project, wrote in a statement that he “will never understand why I was one of the only elected officials who pushed for this major project proactively and enthusiastically, while so many others turned their back on the working men and women of the Steelworkers and Building Trades in Allegheny County.”
Braddock, Pennsylvania, Mayor Chardae Jones, a Democrat, suggested that canceling the investment was U.S. Steel’s “payback” for previously being shut out from fracking in the area.
“Every time I’ve complained to them about air quality, they say the air is better than it used to be,” Jones said of her dealings with U.S. Steel. The corporation has, in the past, been sued by environmental groups alleging they made nearby residents sick from air pollution.
A letter from Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania criticized the lack of support from Allegheny County officials.
“In this case, final permits were never issued by the Department of Environmental Protection or the Allegheny County Health Department despite both entities having nearly two years to review the applications,” the state senators wrote.
“This inaction has cost southwestern Pennsylvanians up to 1,000 immediate construction jobs and diverted billions in direct and indirect economic impacts out of Pennsylvania’s economy,” they continued.