Press Release Dec 23, 2019

More Action Needed to Hold Polluters Accountable; Toxic Chemicals Continue to Spill into Waterways at Indiana Dunes National Park

Lack of enforcement opens the door for future illegal discharges, resulting in more beach closures and potential harm to visitor health and wildlife at Indiana Dunes.

Portage, Ind. – The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), represented by the Earthrise Law Center, took legal action today on behalf of Indiana Dunes National Park through the filing of a motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The proposed amicus brief challenges a proposed settlement between the United States, the State of Indiana, and U.S. Steel Corporation for U.S. Steel’s repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. NPCA calls for the court to reject the proposed settlement because it does not acknowledge the heightened public interest in protecting Indiana Dunes National Park, it fails to recover adequate past and future potential natural resource damages to the park, and because the low civil penalty will not serve as a deterrent for future violations. Through this action, NPCA seeks stronger protections for Indiana Dunes National Park, its visitors and resources.

U.S. Steel spilled approximately 300 pounds of highly-toxic hexavalent chromium into a waterway adjacent to Indiana Dunes National Park, flowing directly into Lake Michigan in the spring of 2017. That’s nearly 600 times the daily allowable limit for public health safety. This chemical spill shuttered public beaches and water intakes, and triggered health warnings across the region, closing more than five miles of the 15-mile beach shoreline inside Indiana Dunes National Park. The proposed settlement reached between U.S. federal agencies, the State of Indiana, and U.S. Steel in response to the legal challenge does not go far enough.

The settlement, known as a consent decree, reveals its flaws through U.S. Steel’s continued violations since the chromium spill in 2017. Another violation in November 2018 caused the National Park Service to close portions of their beaches due to an unknown foamy discharge coming from the same polluted area outside the U.S. Steel facility. And a chromium violation this past October led to the partial closure of the U.S. Steel plant.

Indiana Dunes National Park continues to experience record visitation with nearly two million visitors annually, pumping $350 million back into the surrounding communities each year.

Statement by Colin Deverell, Midwest Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association

“U.S. Steel must be held accountable for its continued pollution, poisoning waterways for millions of people, and ignoring the impacts to Indiana Dunes National Park and its more than two million annual visitors, and the wildlife and beach shoreline that remains a top attraction for the region. At a time when the spotlight remains on U.S. Steel to ensure it adheres to federal Clean Water Act laws, U.S. Steel continually demonstrates its disregard for human health and the neighboring national park with seven additional industrial discharges into park waters.

“The lack of enforcement opens the door for future illegal discharges, which we’ve already seen, resulting in more beach closures and potential harm to visitor health and wildlife. The proposed agreement fails to hold U.S. Steel accountable and must require them to report on substantial improvements to operations, water testing and timeliness for alerting the public and officials about health emergencies.

“When people visit our national parks, they expect to experience clean air and water, awe-inspiring views, diverse wildlife and rare plants. Indiana Dunes is recognized as one of the most biodiverse among all of our more than 400 parks across the National Park System, known for its sand dunes, swamps, bogs, marshes and prairies.

“From Indiana Dunes to the Everglades to the Grand Canyon, our national parks are held to a higher standard to keep the very values for which they were created protected. It is a great responsibility to have a national park in our communities and we must do all we can to protect and preserve them for generations to come. The court must reject this settlement and hold this polluter accountable to protect human health, park resources and to deter future violations.”

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About National Parks Conservation Association: For 100 years, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.4 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/100.

About Earthrise Law Center: Earthrise Law Center is the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, in Portland, Oregon. Earthrise uses strategic litigation to protect America’s environment and natural resources, while at the same time teaching the next generation of environmental advocates at the law school.