More information and public input needed to hold polluter accountable.
BACKGROUND: A proposed settlement has been reached between U.S. federal agencies, the State of Indiana, and U.S. Steel in response to the legal challenge against U.S. Steel’s repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. Last April, 300 pounds of highly-toxic hexavalent chromium spilled into a waterway adjacent to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that flows directly into Lake Michigan. That’s nearly 600 times the daily allowable limit. This chemical spill shuttered public beaches and water intakes, and triggered health warnings.
The proposed settlement includes actions requiring U.S. Steel to pay penalties to the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies that were burdened with cleanup. It also requires the steel company to implement a new protocol for notifying these agencies and the public in the event of another spill, make woefully needed repairs to their facilities’ infrastructure, and conduct daily monitoring measures to avoid future spills.
However, there are elements missing from the consent decree such as timelines by which plans would be executed, as well as technical information and without either, the public cannot make informed comments on the proposal. Due to the long history of violations by U.S. Steel with no enforcement, the public must be sure that U.S. Steel will be held accountable for carrying out these actions. The consent decree recognizes a minimum 30-day comment period, but more time is appropriate. An extended comment period, beyond the 30 days proposed, and public meetings during which questions can be answered are critical. These details are essential to protecting the drinking water for nearly 7 million people, Lake Michigan water quality, and park visitors to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which generates $350 million in the surrounding communities each year.
Several local groups have come together to help ensure the settlement protects water quality and park resources:
“Thousands of NPCA members called on EPA to take action to protect Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,” said Colin Deverell, Midwest Program Manager for National Parks Conservation Association. “Critical elements of this agreement are not yet published. The public deserves more time to better understand a deal that will impact their drinking water, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the multi-million-dollar tourism economy the park supports.”
“The Great Lakes are our region’s greatest asset, providing drinking water to millions of people. Industries that utilize the lakes have a responsibility to protect the water for all who share it,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President for Policy Molly Flanagan. “We urge a longer public comment period to provide ample time for the public to review U.S. Steel’s yet to be released plans for preventing this type of pollution in the future.”
“This is a much needed enforcement action,” said Indra Frank, Environmental Health and Water Policy Director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “We are hoping to see provisions that prevent future spills in the portions of the decree that haven’t been released yet.”
“While the consent decree addresses some of our concerns, such as requiring a preventive maintenance plan, we need more assurance that it goes far enough to protect our residents, drinking water and the Ogden Dunes beach,” said Scott Lehmann, President, Ogden Dunes Town Council. “We also believe a public hearing should be held to provide an opportunity for citizen participation.”
“Lake Michigan provides drinking water, supports local economies, and enhances quality of life for Hoosiers and is critical to the health of the Indiana Dunes ecosystem,” said Natalie Johnson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes. “These resources deserve the utmost protection and Save the Dunes joins partners and local communities in ensuring this settlement adequately addresses the impacts of U.S. Steel’s violations of the Clean Water Act.”
About National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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